Stage Door Review
Monday, September 12, 2022
by Norm Foster, directed by Jamie Williams
• Norm Foster Theatre Festival, St. Catharines Golf & Country Club, St. Catharines
September 6-7, 2022;
• Brock Golf Course, Fonthill
September 8, 11, 14, 15 & 17, 2022;
• Twenty Valley Golf & Country Club, Vineland
September 9, 2022;
• Sawmill Golf Course, Fenwick
September 10-11, 2022;
• Cranberry Golf Course, Collingwood
September 20-23, 2022
Rick: “It’s that one beautiful shot that makes you love the game”
After the Foster Festival’s successful staging of its namesake’s play The Ladies Foursome at actual golf courses in the St. Catharines area, the Festival has taken the logical step doing the same with Foster’s earlier golf-course-set comedy The Foursome. In 2021 Foster Festival Producing Director Emily Oriold had the brilliant idea of how to present the play during Covid restrictions when indoor stagings were forbidden and social distancing was still in effect. She staged the play outdoors and had the audience sit in golf carts in a semi-circle around the playing area. Now those Covid restrictions are no longer in force but word of mouth about the sheer fun of seeing a play about golfing at a golf course while seated in golf carts has made the run of The Foursome even longer than that of The Ladies Foursome.
The Ladies Foursome is not a sequel to The Foursome, but the two plays do have key features in common. Both are divided into 18 scenes for the eighteen holes in golf plus a nineteenth scene as a coda. Both feature only four characters and show only the tee-offs for each hole. In both the four split into two teams of two and start betting on each hole. And both have one hilarious, completely silent scene where all the characters are so angry or embarrassed they can’t speak.
Otherwise, the situations are completely different. In The Ladies Foursome three of the four characters have golfed together every week. The three have just come from the funeral of the fourth and have accepted a friend of the fourth to join them for a round commemorating their lost friend. In The Foursome the four men have never golfed together and one of them has never even played golf before. Unlike the ladies who have seen each other every week, these four men are meeting up after their 25th college reunion and are playing the game to try to become reacquainted.
Seeing The Ladies Foursome of 2014 back-to-back with The Foursome of 1998 reveals the later play as more complex and more willing to delve into the deeper issues the dialogue raises. The Ladies Foursome has a level of mystery lacking in The Foursome with two key questions lurking in the background. Will the three regulars finally accept the new woman as their new fourth? And why does the new women have a view of their deceased mutual friend that is so different from how the three have seen her?
These questions give The Ladies Foursome a depth that the earlier play simple doesn’t have. Nevertheless, within its own parameters The Foursome is still a very funny play and in typical Foster style it demonstrates that most people create façades representing how they would like to be seen. Over time, as in a round of golf, the façades gradually slip and characters hope that others will accept them as they really are.
The member of Foster’s men’s foursome are Rick (Rick Hughes), Ted (Matthew Olver), Cameron (Jason Gray ) and Donnie (Scott Carmichael). Rick, unmarried, lives in Florida and sells boats but seems to have various hustles on the side such as smuggling Brazilian peppertrees, an invasive species in Florida. Ted, now 47 but married to a second wife who is only 29, has managed his business so well he is a millionaire. Cameron, who sells advertising time on television, has married the girl that all the boys of their graduating year lusted after. Donnie, who is playing golf for the first time, has married, moved to a small town and has five children. The views they had of each other in college were that Rick was a hustler, Ted a stick-in-the-mud, Cameron a worrywart and Donnie a dork.
The question that grows throughout the first act is how such different people became friends. The question that grows throughout the second act is whether such different people really are friends or can be friends any longer. Part of the play’s humour is that the passage of time has in part confirmed the truth of how each of the four has been typecast. Part of what makes this a Norm Foster play is that each of the four is much more complex than can be summed up by a stereotype.
As Rick, Rick Hughes has the voice of a radio announcer which only emphasizes the difficulty in figuring out whether what he says is true or not. Hughes has Rick exude confidence and bravado yet his constant habit of making fun of the others makes us wonder why he is so insecure. The others say they are the only ones who can stand him. If that’s true, which all he says and does confirms, then he can’t be as happy a person as he would seem. Hughes is excellent at projecting the fundamental hollowness behind Rick’s assertiveness although Hughes suggests that it has become too late for Rick to see the light.
Matthew Olver’s Ted is an altogether more sympathetic type than Rick. Ted starts the show with a hangover and then drinks heavily for the first few holes. Foster lets us notice this before the other three do. Although Ted is financially successful and has somehow snagged a woman nearly half his age for his second wife, his drinking signals that all is not well. Soon enough we find that Ted knows he drinks too much and even knows why he does so. We also discover why Ted finds Donnie’s constant talk about his children so irksome. Olver makes Ted perhaps the most complex character of the four. Olver makes us see that Ted is aware of his flaws yet willfully tries to forget them. Ted’s virtue is that, unlike Rick, he is able to look at himself clearly and understand his actions.
Jason Gray is very funny as Cameron, who is exactly the worrywart everyone says he is. In Cameron’s case the others have constructed a façade that he is reluctant to deconstruct. The others think working in television must be a glamorous job, but Cameron leaks out the information that his department is strictly separate from the other departments so that he never sees newscasters or celebrities. Cameron does not have a secret he is hiding from the others, but the others have one they are hiding from him which nearly makes Cameron quit the game. The irony in Cam’s character is that he is the one who most wants the four friends to gather more often but, by the end, is quite happy to leave them all behind. Gray gives Cameron the most volatile nature of the four. Gray has such a rosy view of what the past was like that we wonder how long it will take for that view to be shattered.
Scott Carmichael is always amusing as Donnie. Whether it is the physical comedy of Donnie’s manic swings at the ball or whether it the verbal comedy of his nattering on about his children’s successes, Carmichael is expert at both. Carmichael makes Donnie nearly oblivious to the way the other three look down on him. Rick was his tormentor in college and still is now even if he takes Donnie on as a partner. Finally, however, when someone complains about how much Donnie speaks about his family, Carmichael gives such an impassioned reply that it won a round of applause from the audience.
As I noted in my review of The Ladies Foursome, the repetitive structure of the play presents a major challenge to the director who has to give the show’s eighteen entrances variety or risk monotony. Luckily, Jamie Williams meets this challenge and ensures that the entrances are all varied but appear perfectly natural.
One peculiarity about the show is the change of the time period when it is set. When The Foursome premiered in 1998, we meet the four friends in 1997 when are celebrating their 15th reunion, meaning they graduated in 1982. In the present production the four are celebrating their 25th reunion after graduating in 1997. This means that the references to Jack Niklaus and Saddam Hussein should really be updated to, say, Tiger Woods and Vladimir Putin. More serious is that whoever has chosen the pop songs to play between holes has selected songs dating no later than 1977. If the transition music is to reflect the college days of the four men it really should be from about 1994-1997. The solution, thus, is either not to update the time period of the play (the better choice), or if it is updated, to update the transition music.
Never having encountered The Foursome before, I have the feeling that Foster intended it to have a happy ending. Jamie Williams, however, has emphasized the rivalries between characters and the underlying unhappiness of three of the four to such an extent that he wisely gives the ending more ambiguity. The four may sing a final song together but whether they will really want to go golfing again is in doubt. Such an ending is certainly more in line with the ambiguity of Foster’s later plays and with the general sentiment uttered in The Foursome that it was foolish to think that a round of golf could bring back the past when they were all younger and happier.
Such an ambiguous ending only strengthens the play and makes it more realistic. After the show is over, you do wish that Foster had written more plays set on golf courses because the experience is so much fun. When else will you have real golfers returning to the clubhouse in the background or a flock of Canada geese flying overhead? If all the spots are not already sold out, do try to see The Foursome at one of its locations. Otherwise, let’s hope the Foster Festival remounts The Foursome and The Ladies Foursome sometime in the near future.
Photo: Scene at the St. Catharines Golf & Country Club with Matthew Olver, Jason Gray, Rick Hughes and Scott Carmichael in the background; Scott Carmichael; Jason Gray; Rick Hughes; Matthew Olver. © 2022 Norm Foster Theatre Festival.