‘The Fox on the Fairway’ makes Chicago-area debut
What do Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Ken Ludwig all have in common?
They are among the world’s greatest farceurs; that is, writers of farces.
Ludwig may not ever be as well known historically, but he belongs in their presence if for no other reason than his many comedies for almost 30 years have been translated into dozens of languages and performed in more than 25 countries.
Among his many fans is William Pullinsi, the esteemed director of Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind.
Pullinsi has directed Ludwig farces all over the Chicago area from the old Candlelight Dinner Playhouse & Forum Theater in Summit to Theatre at the Center.
Starting Feb. 14, Theatre at the Center will present the Chicago-area debut of “The Fox on the Fairway,” one of Ludwig’s newest farces.
“This one is a little different,” Ludwig said from his home in Washington, D.C.
“This is the first one in a golf course clubhouse. I don’t golf very well, but I have a friend who gave me the idea. I mean, what’s crazier than old white men in silly outfits chasing after a little ball?”
Well, maybe those men also are chasing after sexy women through the clubhouse doors.
The latter — the frantic slamming of doors — as Ludwig points out is one of the many absolute elements of modern farces.
Others include rapid-fire dialogue, mistaken identities, improbable situations, multiple plot twists and hanky-panky.
“They also have happy endings including marriage,” Ludwig said.
The sexual dalliances — or hanky-panky as they’re euphemistically called — are never gross (bring your grandmother, as they say) and are done with a tongue-in-cheek innocence.
However, Ludwig said, “this farce has more hanky-panky than any I’ve written.”
Because the madcap plot has so many twists (though typically easy to follow), it is almost impossible to briefly recap, let alone question the logic.
Suffice it to say “The Fox on the Fairway” revolves around a grudge match golf tournament between rival country clubs.
The story includes a lost engagement ring and lovesick golfers.
The cast includes what Pullinsi said are some of his favorite performers.
Lance Baker (“Sleuth”) stars as the course president.
Also there are Linda Gillum (“Leading Ladies”), Norm Boucher (“Guys and Dolls”), Michael Mahler (“The Producers”) and Kate Bergeron (“Leading Ladies”).
Ludwig concedes that “The Fox on the Fairway” has no philosophical profundities, but he makes no apologies.
That doesn’t mean, however, that this farce is any less artfully written than any of his others.
Ludwig, who was born in York, Pa., has degrees from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, Harvard Law School and the University of Cambridge in England.
He met his wife when she auditioned for one of his plays in college.
Practicing law at his father’s insistence was his day job while writing his first farce.
“I would get up at 4 a.m., write until 8:30 a.m. and then go practice law,” he said.
His breakthrough in 1986 in England and on Broadway was “Lend Me a Tenor,” which was nominated for nine Tony Awards and remains one of most popular farces in contemporary theater.
His other hit farces include “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Leading Ladies,” “Shakespeare in Hollywood” and the book for the Ira and George Gershwin musical “Crazy for You.”
The disciplined Ludwig still works hard at his craft. He tries to have at least two projects a year and is now working on children’s plays.
“I enjoy what I do,” Ludwig said. “People need humor in their life more than ever.”
Some critics who think of themselves as literary purists may cringe at the formulaic writing in a farce that has to include all the elements.
But that’s like saying a murder mystery is formulaic because it always includes a murder and a mystery.
Don Snider is a local freelance writer.