Mark Twain reputedly called golf “a good walk spoiled” but the four men who make up The Foursome at Bay Theatre Company are spoiling for more than a good walk. They are fellow graduates of an unnamed business college, class of 1983, and they are back together for their twentieth reunion. They are friends – or, at least, were back then – but their relationship with each other is steeped in a variety of characteristics, not all of them sweet: competitiveness, needling, mutual concern, riotous laughter, and deep fear.
You know these guys, I think. There’s Donnie (Stephen Patrick Martin), an earnest man deeply in love with his family, who can’t play golf worth a damn. There’s slick Rick (Paul Edward Hope), a hustler currently selling boats in Florida, ruthless and charismatic. Ted (Lee Ordeman) is a stick-in-the-mud until he’s had a few beers, starting, the morning we seem him, at 7 a.m. And Cameron (James Gallagher), a TV ad salesman prone to anxiety, worries that the group has lost its once-satisfying closeness.
The play is from the pen of Norm Foster, the most frequently produced playwright in Canada. You can see why he is. The Foursome is full of craft and wit, and his character portraits are sharp and easily recognizable. There’s a little bit of Neil Simon in Foster, had Simon stayed in TV and written sitcoms. Like a Simon play, The Foursome has a few brief bittersweet interludes; like a Simon play, these interludes feel a little awkward.
The setup is that these men talk about their lives – past and present – while playing a round of golf on Ken Sheets’ inventive set which wraps itself around the audience.. (We see the tees, and imagine the rest of the course via Colin Dieck’s excellent sound effects.) Foster’s scheme is to make the play episodic, layering the laugh lines in at each hole, and at the last minute, sneaking an important reveal about the lives of the characters.
Director Jim Chance takes his players gracefully from hole to hole, moving the characters around Bay’s tiny playing space to the pantomimed musical bits ranging from “Pop Goes the Weasel” and the Looney Tunes cartoons theme song to “The 1812 Overture” and “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. Choreographer Alicia Sweeney, who also has a funny cameo appearance as Cameron’s wife Lauri, a woman with an active pre-marital social life, probably had something to do with the success of these interludes.
Closes January 13, 2013
Bay Theatre Company
275 West Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $35 – $55
Thursdays thru Sundays
Paul Edward Hope is a standout who brings a cherubic charm to the role of Rick, making the hustler likeable enough that we can see why he might have success selling boats in Florida and attracting ladies. The other actors achieve similarly distinctive characterizations and Martin as Donnie is especially adept with his comic timing.
The Foursome could be described as a “coming of middle age” comedy. The men talk about divorce, bedroom boredom, virility, relationship commitment, alcoholism, finances, fear of losing a younger wife, and parenting concerns – all with a humorous slant. Indeed, the quips come with the speed (and the subtlety) of a machine gun. Some of them are a little dated or obvious (jokes about golf, vasectomies, cucumbers, etc.), but they are consistent with the kind of stories middle-class, middle-aged men might swap.
Yet others are genuinely creative, such as the group’s reaction to Rick’s scheme to get rich by selling “Brazilian pepper trees” whose berries make birds become intoxicated and sing happily.
While the weather outside may not be ideal for a trip to the golf course, there’s a comic front stationed over The Bay Theatre. As long as The Foursome is playing, expect deep accumulations of chuckles, laughs, and guffaws.
The Foursome by Norm Foster . Directed by Jim Chance . Featuring Stephen Patrick Martin, Paul Edward Hope, Lee Ordeman, James Gallagher and Alicia Sweeney, who also serves as Choreographer. Set design by Ken Sheets; Lighting and Sound design by Colin Dieck; Properties design by JoAnn Gidos; Costume design by Jackie Colestock. Wendy Snow is the stage manager and Jennifer Roblin serves as dialect coach. Produced by The Bay Theatre . Reviewed by Steven McKnight