Every so often, a performance comes along that knocks your socks off. Nick Piacente is giving one in “The Fox on the Fairway,” a fairly sturdy Ken Ludwig farce that will no doubt take its place alongside his “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo.”
Piacente resembles a young Dick Van Dyke: the lithe, angular body capable of contortion and pratfall, the rubbery face and the spot-on comic timing. It’s not a self-indulgent performance. The part calls for the kind of energy Piacente brings; he simply has particular gifts that make his take memorable.
The dictionary defines farce as “a theatrical composition in which broad improbabilities of plot and characterization are used for humorous effect.” That’s what the author hopes. The situation here involves a golf competition between two country clubs. The president of Quail Valley, Bingham (Peter Langstaff), makes an outsized bet with his irksome counterpart, Dickie (Patrick Ellison Shea), that Quail Valley will finally win, but he quickly learns the golfer he has counted on has defected. He must find a worthy replacement.
‘The Fox on the Fairway’
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington, Vt.
WHEN: Through Aug. 25
HOW MUCH: $37
MORE INFO: 802-447-0565, or www.oldcastletheatre.org
Enter Justin (Piacente), a new hire at the club who has some skills on the links. The rest of the plot involves the fortunes of Justin’s fiancée, Louise (Meredith Meurs); Bingham’s romantic involvement with club board member Pamela (Sophia L. Garder); and Bingham’s wife, Muriel (Natalie Wilder).
Indeed, there are a number of “broad improbabilities of plot” (explained in a sort of deus ex machina fashion at the end, a la “The Importance of Being Earnest”); whether humor is produced depends on your capacity for low comedy and the skill of the players.
My capacity for low comedy is great, so I found myself chortling even when Piacente wasn’t onstage. However, the exposition is rather tedious. the bullhorn scene isn’t funny and the drunk scene in Act II borders on stupid instead of broad.
The production is satisfying. The single set has enough entrances for farce (near misses in the comings and goings). I wonder, however, at the barrenness of the set: not a country-club feel, really. Spencer Sweet’s sound design — important here — is sharp, and the lighting effects, by David V. Groupe, are successful.
Kenneth Mooney’s costumes aptly define each character: Dickie’s egregiously colored golf sweaters prompted laughs at Thursday’s opening.
Director Christine Decker has elicited lively performances from her cast. Meurs plays the sincere and daffy Louise with credible sweetness, the perfect mate for sincere and daffy Justin. Wilder is a tornado as the jilted wife, ominously storming into the proceedings at the end of Act I and making us want to return for Act II.
Shea’s Dickie is someone you’d like to take a mashie to, praise indeed. Garder’s Pamela seems often to be having a private conversation with herself even when she’s talking to someone else, and her hysterical blindness moment is hilarious. And Langstaff fusses, fumes and connives with the world-weariness of a man whose home life is a tough slog and whose public reputation seems, at best, to be average.
Oldcastle Theatre Company is enjoying its first season in new digs in downtown Bennington. They’re still a work in progress, but the seating and the playing area are already comfortable. And if you’re up for a laugh and a stunning regional debut performance, take a look.