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If you go
What: First Presbyterian Theater’s “Fox on the Fairway”
When: 7:30 p.m. today; runs through Sept. 21
Where: First Presbyterian Theater, 300 W. Wayne St.
Admission: $20 pre-sale adults, $24 at the door; $18 pre-sale seniors ages 60 and older, $22 at the door; free admission for the first 30 full-time students, $10 after or at the door; call 422-6329 or go to
Benefit show: “The Flattering Word” will be at 6 p.m. Sunday; benefit tickets are $15 for theater members and those younger than 21, $25 for guests of a member, and $125 for nonmembers
Playwright Ken Ludwig’s “Fox on the Fairway” opens First Presbyterian Theater’s season. The theater will also hold a benefit for lighting upgrades.

Theater’s farce isn’t just a joke

It will be a full weekend for First Presbyterian Theater.

Tonight, the theater will present its first show of the season, “Fox on the Fairway,” and on Sunday will have a benefit performance of the “Flattering Word” to help raise money for the completion of a sophisticated $200,000 lighting upgrade for the theater.

Thom Hofrichter, executive director of First Presbyterian Theater, says the scheduling was intentional. Although he knew “it was going to be a little crazy,” the two performances are set to remind audiences inside and outside the church to support one of the city’s local theaters.

For the benefit, theater season members will pay $15 for admission, and nonmembers will pay $125 with $110 of the total designated as a gift to the lighting upgrade and is tax-deductible. There will also be a silent auction and lighting demonstration during the evening.

“One thing I have always wanted to do is get more people who are members of the church to buy season memberships for the theater,” he says. “We have about 850 members in our church, and it’s nice when everyone is rowing in the same direction.

“Members of the community think that First Presbyterian Theater is a valuable asset, even if they’re not members of the church. It brings a lot of culture to downtown Fort Wayne.”

Proceeds will go toward the purchase of “smart lights,” which are wirelessly controlled through the light board. Hofrichter says the completion of the upgrade will give First Presbyterian Theater one of the most sophisticated lighting systems in the city. In addition, he and the staff will no longer have to climb 16-foot ladders to change stage lighting between productions.

The church has spent $120,000 on the project, with 60 percent of the upgrade finished. He says smart lights can cost from $6,000 to $10,000 each.

“The money was used to upgrade the facilities, the wiring and all the things we had to have for this project. We’re hoping to spend $80,000 more to complete the lighting,” he says. “Our lighting is now networked to our computer in the booth – the master computer controls the lights by communicating with the light’s computer.”

Christopher J. Murphy, director of “Fox on the Fairway,” will also be a cast member of the “Flattering Word.” He says it’s important for local artists to reciprocate the support that community theaters give them.

“It’s tremendous that as audience members and performers that we get so much out of these local theaters,” he says. “It’s very important to give back and raise money so they can continue to be there for all of us.”

“Fox on the Fairway,” written by playwright Ken Ludwig, followed the successful Tony Award-winning revival of Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor.” The farce is inspired by fast-paced English comedies of the 1930s and ’40s that take place on a stuffy private country club.

“I’m a big fan of Ken Ludwig. The first time I went to see a Broadway play in New York, it was ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ – that was the night I fell in love with farce,” Murphy says. “As an audience member and a fan, I just love how delightful, silly and fun it is – it’s a form of theater that’s not out to change the world.

“The important thing is to make it look easy to the audience. It has to be so precise; it has to be perfectly timed, just like a musical. I love the challenge of it.”

Murphy says that even when it comes to farce, there is an underlying message of humanity and good will.

“The production tries to remind people to be a good sport. A lot of farce happens to have a sports theme because farce needs to have a dramatic element, and sports by their nature have a dramatic setup – the stakes are so high. The play reminds us all that it’s always paramount to treat people fairly and be a good sport about it.”

The “Flattering Word” is a short 1916 farce that will be performed as a staged reading starring First Presbyterian Church’s pastors and married duo, Jeff and Arianne Lehn. In the play, Jeff Lehn will play a pastor who disapproves of theater within the church. Arianne Lehn will play a well-known actress who happens to be a friend of the pastor’s wife. Throughout the play, she enlightens the pastor with the “flattering words”: you should be onstage.

“I had read this play probably 25 years ago at Marquette (University),” Hofrichter says. “I always thought I would love to do it, but at 30 minutes, it’s not long enough for the season. (The Lehns) have such a young, positive energy, and they asked if there was anything they could do to be supportive of the theater and I thought about this play.”

The production directly deals with First Presbyterian’s mission of embracing theater within the church. Hofrichter says theater and religion are historically connected; Jesus Christ often used parables and stories to relay a message to his followers. In modern times, theater continues to examine humanity and provide examples of universal rights and wrongs. Although the weekend will be filled with laughter, audiences are bound to walk away with a message of benevolence.

“The theater is where you can go sit and watch how people behave in the dark,” Hofrichter says. “Hopefully, you’re appalled when you see something bad and feel happy when you see something good. These stories show us how to live our lives and how to love our fellow man.”