By Darwin Manning, manningd@grinnell.edu

Fox on the Fairway cast. Photo contributed.

The Grinnell community has benefited from some mid-winter laughs over the past week with last weekend’s opening of the Grinnell Community Theater’s production of Fox on the Fairway. The farce, written in 2010 by Ken Ludwig, made its premier at the Grinnell Golf & Country Club with shows last Friday and Saturday nights, accompanied by a three-course meal. The final two performances are scheduled for this Friday and Saturday, February 15 and 16.

The story revolves around two rival country clubs and the drama surrounding an inter-club golf tournament. Bingham, played by Jim Ramsey, the president of the hosting Quail Valley Country Club, likes to wager with his nemesis, Dickie, rendered by Brian Mitchell, the arrogant executive director of the rival Crouching Squirrel club. The two make a sizable wager in the play, as Bingham believes his club can easily take the victory in the tournament on the strength of a new club champion. However, he quickly finds out that his man has switched to the opposing club. Luckily he discovers his newly hired employee, Justin, played by Grinnell College’s own Jack Menner ’13, has a superb shot and convinces him to join the contest. The play progresses with a collection of comical antics, playing cunningly with the age-old stigma of country club culture.

The cast is rounded out by Callie VanCleve as Louise, Justin’s light-headed fiancée, Wendy Ramsey as Pamela, Dickie’s ex-wife, and Catherine Rod, Grinnell College’s Special Collections Librarian and Archivist, as Bingham’s wife. This diverse set represents various strands of the Grinnell community.

“[There’s] a husband-wife duo that works in insurance real estate in the town, a playwright who also works at the book store [Mitchell], you’ve got a College archivist and a high school senior [VanCleve],” Menner said. “Working with non-students is really interesting, not in a good or bad way. It’s a change of pace.”

The members of this tight-knit cast had previous experience acting at the Community Theater level, though several of them cited this as a unique experience due to the close proximity that developed among the actors. Wendy Ramsey reflected on the ways this experience was different from her first community theater venture with last year’s Annie.

“It’s a smaller cast, and so the chemistry is a lot tighter and you get to explore some of the energy from the other characters far more,” Wendy Ramsey said. “In this, we’re all very active and moving around, so it’s a lot of fun.”

Fox on the Fairway is director Rob Clower’s first production, although he has been involved in several plays as an actor. He feels incredibly blessed to have a cast that fit the parts just as he had envisioned them. He hopes the production will introduce a new audience to local theater.

“I think its going to take a lot of them into an area, community theater, they haven’t been, plus it takes a lot of them to the country club, which they might not be members of,” Clower said. “I hope someone snorts wine through their nose because they are laughing so hard.”

Clower has been very impressed by the performances his cast members have supplied and he believes that the acting should hold up to the quality of the three-course meal.

“[I got] to work with one right-out novice actor, Jim Ramsey, who has probably the toughest role in the whole production,” Clower said. “He looked solid when he came out in auditions, but he is working almost entirely from scratch and he’s made such strides.”

As a “dinner theater” performance, audience members can enjoy a full meal while watching the show. Dinners include an entrée, soup or salad, dessert and a cash bar, according to the website.

Menner hopes the play will give Grinnellians the chance for a reprieve from the doldrums of a gloomy Iowa winter.

“There are certain times in the cold of winter when [it’s great] to just think about a warm sunny day when you can go golfing,” Menner said.

To reserve tickets for tonight or Saturday’s performance, contact the Grinnell Arts Center at 641-236-3203 or email Arts Center Coordinator Kate Baumgartner at kate@grinnellarts.org. Meal tickets range from $27 to $37, although performance only tickets can be purchased for $15.