BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Despite the fact that his writing here is pretentious and stylistically awkward in places, farceur Ken Ludwig, who gave us the masterly "Lend Me a Tenor," is not too far off the green with "The Fox on the Fairway," which is, unfortunately, receiving a somewhat undisciplined production at Oldcastle Theatre Company.
The setting is the tap room of the Quail Valley Country Club on the weekend of its annual golf competition with the rival Crouching Squirrel Country Club, which has won each of the previous five contests.
This year, however, Quail Valley's manager, Henry Bingham (Peter Langstaff), is convinced he has a sure thing with a new club member, so much so that he bets heavily on the outcome with his rival, the tastelessly flashy, smug, boastful, boorish Dickie Bell (Patrick Ellison Shea), only to learn, too late, that his sure thing has defected to his rival. Bingham finds an unlikely replacement in his new hire, an eager-to-please, socially and physically awkward young man named Justin (Nick Piacente), who turns out to be a genuine phenom in the making. The only problem, Bingham is told by Justin's fiancee, Louise (Meredith Meurn), is that any emotional upset can throw Justin wildly off his game.
It's not giving anything away to say that with an eight-stroke lead and only two holes left to play in the tournament Justin is, in fact, thrown off his game, in more ways than one.
Ludwig has his way with a host of genres, gleefully piling wild complication on top of wild complication and constructing even wilder turns and resolutions.
But in the hands of director Christine Decker, "The Fox on the Fairway" is more effortful than effortless. The production moves in fits and starts. The timing is, at best, imprecise. The finesse and precision, the cohesiveness and focus this kind of comedy requires give way, instead, to lumbering anarchy. It often feels as though it's every actor for him or herself.
The performances, for the most part, are more concerned with adopting attitudes, particularly in the case of Sophia L. Garder, whose affectation-riddled Pamela -- Bingham's ally and, as it turns out, considerably more -- rides roughshod over her delicious, at times wonderfully cynical and self-aware, throwaway lines.
At the other end of the spectrum, Piacente's Justin embraces the antic spirit of this play in a sublime performance that is as notable for its nimble vocal dexterity as it is for its inspired physical dexterity.
In varying degrees, the rest is, as Mark Twain said about the game of golf, little more than a good walk spoiled.