George B. Miller brings farce back to Playhouse
It has been a long time since George B. Miller has directed a farce.
More than 40 years to be exact.
But that is exactly what he is doing with “The Fox on the Fairway,” Ken Ludwig’s crazy farce about rival golf clubs that opens June 1 at Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem.
“I’m known for doing serious drama,” Miller says. “This time I wanted to do something a little lighter.”
“The Fox on the Fairway” is Ludwig’s tribute to English farces of the 1930s and 1940s.
Ludwig, a Pennsylvania native, is known for his farces, including the Tony-winning “Lend Me a Tenor,” as well as his multi-award-winning musical comedy, “Crazy For You,” which the Playhouse is presenting July 27 to Aug. 12.
“This is a broad comedy focused on plotting and how everything unravels,” says Miller. “There’s a lot of people running in and out of doors. It’s kind of like the Keystone Cops.”
The story follows two very different golf club owners who are vying to win a prestigious golf tournament. When one hires a professional golfer and the other steals him away, all sorts of hijinks are set in motion.
Miller says the fast-paced plot also throws in over-the-top romantic entanglements, mistaken identities and a chase scene.
It’s been a change of pace for Miller, who says the last time he directed a farce was the 18th century play “She Stoops to Conquer” in 1977.
Miller says the style of theater known as farce is particularly difficult for actors because of the physicality of the roles. He says as a director, timing is crucial to keep the plot moving forward and avoid chaos. He says one key scene involves actors throwing a “$10,000 vase” in the air that everyone thinks is going to fall and smash.
“There is definitely a challenge in directing farce,” Miller says. “It’s still thought-provoking, but it’s a different approach.”
Miller says he was fortunate to find the perfect actors to play the two dueling golf club owners who are as different as night and day.
Pat Kelly plays the stuffy Bingham, president of Quail Valley Country Club, who Miller says is “starchy and Shakespearean, very white-collar.“
John Corl plays the annoying Dickie, president of Crouching Squirrel Country Club. Miller describes the character as “blue collar, gruff and down-to-earth.”
Miller says he is pleased with how the cast of seven is meshing, four of whom he has worked with previously.
Other cast members are Brian Welsko as Justin, Tatiana Torres as Louise, Jeanie Olah as Pamela, Tracy Weaver as Muriel, and Paul Bonnici as The Starter.
Miller says that another character, who is never seen, is the golf pro, Trumplemain.
But Miller promises “there is a little something. so the audience will see a semblance of the character.”
He says he is very happy with the show’s progress and everything is ready for opening night.
“It’s amazing. When I first read a play, I can almost see it in my mind,” says Miller. “It’s like a puzzle that comes together. It’s very satisfying.”
Set designer Brett Oliveira has created the stuffy golf clubhouse environment in which everything takes place, complete with five doors, a crucial farce requirement.
Kate Scuffle, costume designer, has outfitted the cast in colorful golfing ensembles.
Patti Hall Squire is assistant director and stage manager.
Miller says he has a long history with the Playhouse and acted in his first show there, the comedy “The Loud Red Patrick,” in 1967. He most recently directed “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” at the Playhouse.
He has acted and directed on and off there ever since and praises the venue’s stage.
“I really love the thrust stage,” Miller says. “It’s one of the neatest stages for acting. It’s intimate and offers more creativity. It brings the audience almost on top of the actors.”
“The Fox on the Fairway,” 7:30 p.m. June 1-2, 8-9 and 14-16; and 3 p.m. June 10 and 17. Pennsylvania Playhouse. Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-6665.