Golf, laughs on par for 'Fox on the Fairway'

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Jessica James as Louise Heindbedder in a scene from Encore Theater's 'Fox on the Fairway, which opens this month at Arts of the Albemarle's Maguire Theater.

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By Anna Goodwin McCarthy

Sunday, April 15, 2018

In Encore Theatre Company’s production of “Fox on the Fairway,” characters attempt to avoid the hazards of love while staying on par to reach a hole in one of laughs.

While the central plot of the play focuses on a $200,000 golfing wager between rival golf club managers, the play’s director, Frank Elfring, said the farce can also be viewed as multiple love stories.

“Young love, lost love and old love,” said Elfring.

Elfring said the play, written by Ken Ludwig, first premiered in 2010 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., and has been performed “all over the little theater circuit.”

Fans of Monty Python and Benny Hill will find similar comedic stylings in the farce by Ludwig, according to Elfring, who says the play is “outrageously outrageous.”

By finding a golfer that is a sure bet to win the annual tournament, Manager of Quail Valley Country Club Henry Bingham (Brian Cebrian) thinks he will finally overcome rival, Dickie Bell (Al DelGarbino) who is manager of Crouching Squirrel Golf and Racquet Club. Before the tournament commences, Bell steals the skilled golfer from Bingham and the comedy ensues.

“He’s kind of a slimeball,” said DelGarbino, describing Bell’s dubious ways.

Bingham realizes he has made a bet with Bell that could change his life, and now he is in danger of losing everything.

Elfring said one of his favorite scenes in the play occurs at the beginning when Bingham learns if he does not win the tournament he will lose his job with the club.

Bingham’s wife, Muriel (Laura Renwick), is described by one character in the play as a “Sherman tank” and when her antique shop is added to the golfing wager the stakes mount for Bingham.

“Instead of walking, she rolls through life,” said Renwick. “She’s tough.”

Pamela Peabody (Michele Renaldi) is one of Bell’s ex-wives and she is affiliated with Quail Valley Country Club. To add spice to the fire, she also has a history with Bell’s golfing rival, Bingham. Cebrian said his character, Bingham, grew up with Pamela and “there has always been that spark.”

Renaldi said Pamela is a “very sophisticated Southern belle” who is very uninhibited. With a sassy dialogue of innuendos, Pamela’s interplay between the characters brings humor to the scenes.

Christina Shepard serves as the starter/announcer for the play and will voice her lines from the balcony of the theatre in a spotlight.

Bingham finds solace and a glimmer of hope with a new talented young golfer, Justin Hicks (Jacob Spencer), who may help him win the bet.

“Justin loves the world for what it is,” said Spencer.

However, the new golfer’s swing may unravel after finding out his fiancée, Louise Heindbedder (Jessica James) flushed her engagement ring down the toilet.

James said Louise is “light-hearted, good natured and ditzy.”

Elfring said one of the most hilarious moments of the play is actually a line from an old episode of the “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

“Louise delivers it with pure innocence,” said Elfring.

Throughout the play, Bingham is on a comedic ride of ups and downs in his quest for victory on the golf course and in life.

“I like the fact that he goes from authoritative tough guy to total mess back to tough guy,” said Cebrian of his character, Bingham. “There is a lot of range.”

Having performed in Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor,” Cebrian was familiar with the playwright’s work and he accepted the role when he was asked to take on the part of Bingham.

Phyllis Phillips, the producer of the comedy, said they have incorporated props from The Pines and inserted the names of local golfing groups into the script that audiences may recognize.

“We are making the setting here in Elizabeth City,” said Phillips.

“The play is actually written to bring in local flavor,” said Cebrian.

Phillips said the cast performed skits of the play at The Pines on Friday, April 13. The play will run at the Maguire Theatre at the Arts of the Albemarle on April 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28.

All of the scenes, excluding the last where there is a spotlight on the green, take place in a tap room at the fictional Quail Valley Country Club.

“It’s a very hilarious comedy,” said Phillips. “We have some wonderful actors.”

Elfring, who previously directed Encore Theatre Company’s production of “Plaza Suite,” said he hopes audiences leave the play with “hurting sides from laughing so much.”