“Golf is a good walk spoiled,” Mark Twain famously said. Whether that’s true or not, golf makes an excellent subject for comedy.
Theatre Lawrence exploits this to fine effect in its new staging of the Ken Ludwig farce, “The Fox on the Fairway.” A cast of six throws caution and dignity to the wind in an effort to squeeze every available laugh out of the script, which aims to be an homage to Marx Brothers-style films, and pulls it off with aplomb.
The plot concerns the latest installment of a long-running interclub tournament between two rival country clubs. Quail Run, the setting for the play and the site of this year’s match, has lost five in a row to Crouching Squirrel, and club manager Bingham (Shawn Trimble) is going to lose his job if it becomes six. But he’s brought in a ringer to tip the scales in Quail Run’s favor, and he makes an extravagant bet with Dickie (Dennis Tyner), Crouching Squirrel’s smarmy and conniving manager, on the outcome of the tournament. Unfortunately, Bingham’s ringer is actually playing for Crouching Squirrel, a fact Dickie doesn’t disclose until after the bet has been agreed on.
But it turns out that Bingham’s new assistant Justin (Jake Leet) is a scratch golfer. Bingham and Dickie’s ex-wife, Pamela (Amber Dickinson), hastily have Justin made a member so he can play and then watch with glee as Dickie is about to get his comeuppance. But when Justin’s fiancée, Louise (Julia Peterson), accidentally flushes her engagement ring down the toilet, he melts down, and his eight-shot lead may be in danger.
Leet is hilarious as the youthful and slightly maniacal Justin. He understands perfectly how to vary his delivery to alternate between sunny optimism and crazed meltdown. He flings his body around the stage with reckless hilarity in a way only a young, fearless actor can.
Peterson is likewise hysterical as the naïve Louise. She is at once innocent and wise. She jumps up and down with gleeful excitement anytime something good happens and goes to pieces hilariously when things go wrong.
Trimble plays Bingham with over-the-top cynicism. He yo-yos breathlessly between triumphant conceit and abject depression and weaves a fine mix between closeted desire for Pamela and open spite for his wife, Muriel (Natalie Jensen).
And Tyner doesn’t miss a beat as the ridiculous Dickie, constantly messing up his metaphors, coming on to every woman he meets and wearing comically hideous sweaters in scene after scene.
There are no new jokes in “The Fox on the Fairway.” Ludwig is not mining new material or even reviving old jokes in a new way. If you’ve seen a farce or enjoyed vaudeville, you’ve seen everything “Fox” tries to pull off.
But it just doesn’t matter. “The Fox on the Fairway” is packed with laughs, and the cast is so delightful one is sorry to see the final curtain come down. “Fox” is a comic treat that leaves one laughing long after the final bow.
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera” opened last weekend at the Lawrence Arts Center, and fortunately for those who didn’t catch it, the production will run for another weekend, October 26-27-28. Crisply directed by Ric Averill, the show fills the stage with music, color and movement, while unflinchingly exploring Brecht’s grim vision of poverty, criminality, justice and injustice.
If you cut your teeth on the original (1954) off-Broadway production, the lyrics will be unfamiliar, though they express the same sentiments. Averill has chosen the Robert MacDonald translation of the original German rather than the more familiar Marc Blitzstein version.
Unquestionably one of the stars of this show is the Free State Liberation Orchestra, ably conducted by Carlos Espinosa, with 12 musicians playing 23 instruments, using Weill’s original orchestration. The production rolls on a tide of sound, through the show’s 24 songs. Close your eyes and you’d swear you were listening to the original soundtrack.
Seth Golay, one of three Equity actors in the production, is a memorable MacHeath, playing a demanding role with élan. As “Mack the Knife,” though we know he’s a deep-dyed criminal, he is so charming that the audience as well as his lady friends fall under his spell. His strong clear tenor never fades, from the rousing “Cannon Song” in Act I through his riveting final ballad in Act III.
Lawrence native Breanna Pine returns from New York to her hometown to play the lead role of Polly Peachum. Also an Equity actor, Pine brings a brilliant soprano voice and impressive acting talent to the role. Her solos “Pirate Jenny” and “Barbara Song“ and spirited “Jealousy Duet,” a musical catfight with Elizabeth Haney in a nice turn as Lucy Brown, are high points in the show.
Polly’s parents, J.J. Peachum and his wife, are well played by Jim Korinke and Sarah Young. Korinke, an award-winning professional familiar to the Kansas City theatre scene, carries off the role of Peachum convincingly, making the character believable both as the outfitter and trainer of London’s beggars and as the philosopher and conscience of the story. Young lends her commanding stage presence and superb voice to the role of Mrs. Peachum.
Other noteworthy performances include Ric Averill as the corrupt Chief of Police Tiger Brown, and John Phythyon who plays the beggar Filch, as well as the Queen’s Messenger, arriving on horseback in a scene not to be missed.
The cast of 22, many doubling or tripling as Beggars/Thieves/Whores/Constables/Dancers (there are 35 characters) hit their marks, pick up their cues, and keep the stage alive with movement. Not only is the whole stage filled with action, but it spills over into the pit and the first row of seats–notably in the frenetic chase scene when Mack is arrested.
The clever set by Tammy Keiser features colorful two-story residence frameworks at right and left, serving inter alia as the Peachums’ shop and house and Jenny Diver’s brothel. Painted planking, ropes and ship silhouettes create the feel of a dock area. And the pit at stage right holds the barred cell where MacHeath is imprisoned, as well as the gallows where he is to be hanged.
Colorful costuming by Steffani Day renders the Beggars, Thieves and Whores suitably ragged and disreputable. Art Kent’s lighting effectively helps to unify the often-centrifugal action.
The show runs three hours, with two intermissions. In the second, the audience is treated to champagne. Cheers!
- Dean Bevan
If all you think of is “theater for young people” when you think of the Lawrence Arts Center, you don’t know the whole story.
“Our reputation is youth theater and family-friendly shows,” says the Arts Center’s Performing Arts Artistic Director Ric Averill. “We want to be known as an artist-based theater.”
Averill certainly understands the reputation the Arts Center has earned. Several generations of children have passed through the Summer Youth Theater program. This past summer, 90 kids participated in the “The Wizard of Oz” and 75 in “Cinderella, or How Pipsqueak the Mouse became a Stallion” – the two productions for elementary-school-aged students. There were also productions of “You Can’t Take It with You” and “Cabaret” for high schoolers.
For the past three years, the Arts Center has staged family-oriented musicals “Oliver,” “The Music Man,” and “Willie Wonka.” But Averill has a bigger vision.
“The goal is to become a leading arts space,” he says. “We want to do things other theaters aren’t doing.”
That’s one of the things that led him to choosing to stage “The Threepenny Opera,” which opens tonight and runs two weekends. Bertolt Brecht’s classic musical is about as different from the sweet production of “Wonka” Averill directed earlier this year as possible. The show tells the story of the fall of notorious criminal, MacHeath, who is betrayed when he overreaches by marrying the daughter of J.J. Peachum, a criminal mastermind himself, who forces all the beggars in London to work for him and pay tribute. The ensemble cast is made up of beggars, thieves, and whores, and, while Brecht paints these poor unfortunates as victims of society, he doesn’t make any of them sympathetic. They are all, in their own ways, bad people.
“Brecht rejected empathy,” Averill says. “He gives us unsympathetic characters so we won’t be distracted. We’re able to hear what the characters have to say, because we don’t feel sorry for them.”
And Brecht has a lot to say in “Threepenny.” In keeping with his vision for an artistic theater, Averill deliberately chose the play to run during an election year.
“People will enjoy 'The Threepenny Opera’ because it’s classical theater,” he says. “But it is also a cry from Brecht to understand the plight of the poor, and that’s been very topical in the past year or so.
“The show transcends its time, and it transcends politics. As people watch it, it asks, ‘Has the world changed since Brecht wrote his beggars’ opera?’”
An ambitious undertaking like “Threepenny” necessitates a talented cast. To get it, Averill brought in professional actors. Three Equity actors – Seth Golay as MacHeath, Jim Korinke as Peachum, and Breanna Pine as Peachum’s daughter Polly – join a group of Lawrencians Averill has worked with on various productions in the past. In fact, he’s worked with the Equity people before too, having directed Golay in Kansas City in “Stuart Little” and Pine when she was in Summer Youth Theater at the Arts Center as a young woman (she went on to work professionally in New York and now Los Angeles). As for Korinke:
“I met him auditioning for commercials,” Averill says. “We’re often in competition, because we’re around the same age. He usually wins.”
Marrying out-of-town professionals with local talent is one of Averill’s long-term goals too.
“We want to capitalize on the artistic excellence there is in Lawrence and bring in excellent visiting artists at the same time,” he says. “The more opportunities for actors, the better.”
“The Threepenny Opera” runs October 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, and 28. Curtain is at 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00pm. The show is recommended for audiences 18 and older. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-843-2787 or online at lawrenceartscenter.org.
Disclosure: The author is a member of the cast of “The Threepenny Opera.”