by Norm Foster
Theatre New Brunswick
So these four guys meet at the fifteenth reunion of their university class, and decide to play a round of golf. They haven't seen each other much since university, but they all say they remember being best buddies, though they don't seem to recall many details. After seventeen holes, during which the betting stakes steadily rise, Cam, the one for whom we may have started to develop some liking -- he seems desperate to rediscover the friendship of the others, and to be the most vulnerable and threatened of the four -- announces that, two weeks ago, he'd been fired from his job as an ad salesman for a TV station, and hasn't told his wife. But, he says, he'll have to own up soon, because she'll wonder where the mortgage money is. "You were really fired?" "Yep," he says, "I was really fired." It's an affecting moment.
Immediately the others rally round, offering to cancel the bet on the golf match. He nobly refuses, and Rick, the best golfer among the four, and the one most competitive about the match, deliberately misses a three-foot putt on the last hole, throwing the match and allowing Cam and his partner to win. As they talk over the game, Cam casually announces that he can't stay because he has a staff meeting on Monday and lots of paperwork to do before it. There is a good deal of laughter about how he certainly put one over on Rick.
Such as it is, this is the climax of Norm Foster's The Foursome, by a long jump the darkest, coldest and most cynical comedy Foster has produced. In Theatre New Brunswick's spare, cool production, the four golfers seem to present a set of examples of what's wrong with men. The central problem, the one they all share, is that they don't seem able to have relationships. Under the banter and kidding, the sudden, aggressive "straight talk" and fits of despondency and jealousy, and the formulaic reminiscing ("who was the girl you always wanted to, you know, and never did?") -- under all that, well, there's nothing.
It's not clear that that's exactly what Foster had in mind, but the way this script is structured that's how the four guys come out.
Rick, perhaps the central character, is a blowhard and cheat, a self-styled stud who's gone off to Florida to sell boats and dream of getting rich through various half-baked schemes. Neil Foster wears his wonderful straw hat with just the right tough-guy, wisecracking air, and though he occasionally seemed far from sure of his lines, he looks just right as the hustler and jokester that nobody has ever really liked, but that everybody can have a good time playing golf with. If we don't believe him for an instant when he suddenly confesses, toward the end, that he really wants to get married and be a father to the teenage daughter he's just discovered he has, that may not be his fault: the script doesn't give him much to work with.
Each of the characters has a similar revelation or moment of truth, and, like Rick's, in each case they seem to be introduced mechanically and then forgotten. Perhaps, like Cam's confession about losing his job, they're merely ploys to put the other team off. We can't be sure.
Ted (Robert B. Kennedy), for instance, who opens his first beer as they arrive on the first tee at 7:00 and has had five by the time they finish the first nine, "discovers" that he's on the verge of being an alcoholic, "reveals" that he's sterile, and "recognizes" that he really doesn't want to become a Buddhist to keep his current wife. Once the revelations are made, however, they seem to have no consequences, except providing material for some jokes.
Donnie (Robert Clarke) is the most obvious victim. He has never played golf before, and much is made of this, and his devotion to (and his endless blathering about) his family. At one point, Ted asks him to just stop talking about his family. Donnie is silent for a hole or two, and then bursts out with a very strange speech in which he confesses that Ted is right, that he doesn't have any life outside his family, and we're invited to feel sorry for his narrow, boring existence. And then he goes on to enthuse that his family is very important to him and he intends to keep right on talking about them endlessly. Clarke's warm delivery of this "family values" speech earned him applause on his exit line, but it wasn't clear, to me at least, whether he changed his mind somewhere in the middle of the speech, or simply forgot where he'd started -- or perhaps suddenly decided to get back at the sterile Ted.
Cam (Samuel Owen) is in some ways the center of the occasion: he's the member of the golf club, and he's invited the others for this round. It's he who keeps coming back to how sad it is that they've all fallen out of touch -- "the three best friends I've got in the world," he says. He's got up in a wonderfully voluminous pair of checked knickers (Ted remarks at one point that his head would be a lot better if Cam would just turn the volume down on his pants) and matching cap, and, it turns out, is the most desperate to win the golf match. It's not clear whether his claim to think he's having a heart attack at one point, or his sudden spasm of jealousy about the other three -- "even Donnie" -- having slept with his wife before he was married, are simply ploys to win the match, or evidence of his "worrywart" character. Perhaps Owen's playing might have made it clearer when he was lying and when he was revealing his character -- but, again, the script doesn't give him much to work with. Perhaps Norm Foster hasn't made up his mind, either.
At the end, you wind up detesting all four of them, and feeling that they detest each other, too. When they decide to play another 18 holes, and sing the number they sang together in school to lure Cam back, too, you have no reason to think they're going to like each other much more the second time around. Thankfully, however, though it seems they're going to have to undergo them, we're spared the next 18.
Is it funny? Well, yes, it's funny; it's a Norm Foster script, after all. Ted's wife, for instance, discovered she wanted to be a Buddhist by watching Richard Gere on a talk show. "That's not a religion," snarls Rick, "that's a sound bite." "Aren't you Buddhists supposed to take some time every day and let your mind go blank?" "Yeah, well, I read Danielle Steel."
But it's not nearly as funny as some of his plays have been. It includes some extremely creaky jokes, offered up as originals -- for instance, Donnie tells us about Ginger Rogers doing the same thing as Fred Astaire, but backwards and in high heels. I hadn't heard vasectomy jokes in decades. Some of the running jokes -- like Donnie's obscenity after each of his bad drives -- wear thin fairly quickly. And it really hasn't much else to keep you interested -- not only is there no plot at all, there's not even much interest in golf, or in this particular match. Nor is there much variety or interest in the staging: each scene ends with them walking off the tee, and the next begins with them walking back on.
The progress of the match doesn't reflect or echo anything going on it the relationships; in fact, it doesn't really appear to matter much to them -- or, consequently, to us. Though we're told that Cam and Ted lose the first five or six holes, we never hear how it happens that they wind up tied (for money, anyway) at the eighteenth. Although Patrick Clarke's elegant and graceful set -- three raked elliptical spaces, covered with indoor carpet -- look almost unnervingly like golf greens, we never see them putt. No hole, in other words, is ever finished; in fact, all we ever see of the match are the four guys driving. We don't even see the crucial 18th green, when Rick throws the match.
Still, the very warm and responsive opening night house, perhaps drawn together by having braved an ice storm to get there as much as by the script, laughed pretty much continuously and leaped to their feet for a standing ovation at the final note of the song which ends the evening. Last spring, The Wild Guys, a somewhat similar play, drew the same sort of response. Maybe it's a guy thing.
Note: in part because of a letter to the editor from the author, complaining that I "gave away the ending" in this review (for my response to that, see the comment in my review of Sleuth), the editors of the Evening Times-Globe asked if I would modify the review before it ran prior to the play's opening in Saint John. I agreed; the modified review is here. I made a couple of other minor changes, as well. I stand by my verdict, however.