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TNT takes a swing at farce

NILES — Farce has been a theater staple for centuries, and Ken Ludwig is one of its leading contemporary practitioners.

“Fox on the Fairway,” the opening production for Trumbull New Theatre’s 2019-20 season, may not be as well known as the playwright’s “Lend Me a Tenor” or “Moon Over Buffalo,” but it has all of the hallmarks of those comedies, and the TNT cast consistently found the laughs contained within on its opening weekend.

The story is set in the present at Quail Valley Country Club. Bingham (Josh Crank), the owner, is preparing for the club’s annual golf tournament against rival Crouching Squirrel Country Club. Its owner, Dickie (Jerry Kruse), assaults the eye with his hideous fashions and butchers the English language with his mangled cliches, but he’s smart enough to outfox Bingham every year.

This time Dickie poaches Bingham’s best player the day before the big tournament, after he’s already wagered his ownership in the club and the nearby antique business owned by his wife, Muriel (Michelle Jones).

Bingham may be able to salvage the the tournament with the golfing skills of his new assistant, Justin (Joseph Scott), as long as he can keep the easily flustered golfer on an even keel. But since Justin just got engaged to Louise (Casey Murphy), another club employee — and she just lost their engagement ring — that won’t be easy. There’s also the issue of his wife, who might kill him for risking her business and overhearing him profess his love to an old flame, Pamela (Niki Baringer), who is a member of the club and Dickie’s ex-wife.

Blocking and pacing are crucial in a good farce. First-time director Brett Bunker handles many of these scenes well. There’s a door-slamming chase early in the play that goes at about two-thirds of the speed it needs to, but a bit involving an expensive vase being tossed around among the characters is well-executed. And a post-curtain call routine that won’t be spoiled here gets some of the biggest laughs of the night and is an impressive technical feat.

Baringer gets many of the best one-liners in Ludwig’s script, and the sometimes cutting, sometimes flirty banter between Baringer and Crank is one of the production’s strengths.

Jones’ Muriel is the last character to make an appearance, but it’s a memorable entrance with her thwacking her husband with a newspaper as she discovers each foolish decision he’s made.

Kruse’s Dickie proves to be a worthy foil to Bingham (credit to costumer / assistant director Megan Myers for the increasingly ugly sweaters Dickie wears) and Murphy and Scott are likeable as the young couple.

Each act opens with jokes about golf, chestnuts like, “Golf and sex are the only two things you don’t have to be good at to enjoy,” and some of the humor will be appreciated best by those who spend their weekends on the links. However, one doesn’t need to own a bag of clubs to appreciate the show.