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Golf farce opens TNT season

NILES — Brett Bunker, past president of the Trumbull New Theatre board, downloaded preview scripts for six plays to read on a flight to Houston, including Ken Ludwig’s farce “Fox on the Fairway.”

“This one — and only this one — had me giggling from the first page while sitting next to a complete stranger,” he said.

He immediately decided to submit the script for consideration for TNT’s 2019-20 season, and it will open Friday with Bunker making his directing debut.

“Fairway” playwright Ken Ludwig is no stranger to theatergoers, nationally or locally. He’s a two-time Tony Award nominee who has had six shows staged on Broadway, and his comedies are a staple of regional and community theaters. TNT has staged “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Shakespeare in Hollywood” in previous seasons.

“Fox on the Fairway” takes place at Quail Valley Country Club. Bingham, who owns the club with his wife, Muriel, believes he finally has the golfer who can help him win a tournament against his rival, Dickie, the owner of Crouching Squirrel Country Club. He makes a $200,000 bet he can’t afford to lose.

Of course, things never go as planned in a farce, so expect mistaken identities, romantic entanglements and door-slamming comedy.

“My assistant director (Megan Myers) described it best — it’s basically ‘Caddyshack’ if Rodney Dangerfield was the antagonist, that over-the-top villain,” Bunker said.

The comedy appealed to him for several reasons.

“I play golf, not as much as I’d like to anymore since my son was born,” he said. “I liked the golf comedy, and it struck me as my kind of comedy. I love farces, the quick opening of doors, the mistaken identities. I think (Monty) Python-esque would be a good way to describe my sense of humor … This is easily accessible. It’s pretty broad and plays well across all age groups.”

Making that kind of comedy work requires a certain rhythm.

“That’s the key, getting the pacing right,” Bunker said. “I told the cast they need to get words right first, then the pacing will come. About a week ago I started hitting them on the pacing — ‘Faster, faster. I’ll tell you if you’re going too fast.’ It’s not the pace of the lines but the pace of the action, how fast they come in on the line.”

The cast features Josh Crank as Bingham, Jerry Kruse as Dickie, Michelle Jones as Muriel, Niki Baringer as Dixie’s ex, Pamela, and Casey Murphy and Joey Scott as Louise and Justin, respectively, two young lovers who work at Quail Valley.

Bunker has appeared in several TNT productions, but he said directing offers a different set of challenges.

“It’s more stressful for me. At this point, I’m used to being on stage and having control of my character and what I put out on stage. (As director) I have to take step back and let go, which is a hard thing for me to do. But at the end of the day, I trust my cast and I trust my crew to do what they need to do to make it work.”

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