My wife and I have invested heavily in shows for the coming 2019-20 show across multiple venues. For Ottawa Little Theatre, they have nine shows planned for the season, and if we hadn’t went with lots of shows elsewhere, I’d probably have signed up for 5 or 6 of them. Instead, we held ourselves to just two. The first was from Norm Foster, a sequel to a previous golf one called The Foursome which we saw back in ’07.
Generally, we love Norm Foster comedies. Some funny, some farcical, almost always enjoyable, and most of the castings and shows have worked. He’s probably my second favorite playwright after Dan Needles who created The Letter from Wingfield Farm and six sequels, and my favorite general playwright. I was just looking at his website and he has 52 plays listed. Holy doodle, I had no idea there were that many.
We saw the original show, The Foursome, about four college buddies coming home for a reunion and a round of golf. It was an interesting setup, as the show takes place in front of a backdrop of 18 holes on a golf course as they talk while getting ready to tee off. In effect, it means 18+ scenes. It was funny, I quite enjoyed it, and when it was over, I promptly forgot most of the details. I remember generally that there were old grudges and jealousies about current levels of success, or apparent success, but not the details. But it was positive overall, and when the Ladies Foursome came up as a sequel, it seemed like a no-brainer to get it. We have also liked The Long Weekend (two couples together, 2011), Maggie’s Getting Married (older sister meets groom, only to realize she knows him biblically, 2005), Ned Durango Comes to Big Oak (aging cowboy star in small town, 2004), and Here on the Flight Path (a man gets to know 3 consecutive neighbours on an adjoining balcony, 2003).
So we like OLT. We like Norm Foster. We like the original Foursome. Should be a no-brainer that we’ll like The Ladies Foursome so it made my list immediately to see. And it crashed.
The quick summary of the show is that every week for 15ish years, four women have played a round of golf together. Except one has died, and the play takes place the day after the funeral. The three surviving members have invited a woman they met at the funeral to join them in her place. And like the Foursome, the Ladies Foursome talks about anything and everything except golf, which is the draw for people who don’t play golf. Golf is just the plot device to get them together.
The opening bit is two of the women showing up, and starting to talk. Tate is feeling her mortality, and wondering what she’s accomplished in her life. Her friend reassures her that her life isn’t a failure, including mentioning that she has two beautiful children. To which she replies, “I have three children”. She did say “beautiful” children though. The other surviving member shows up, joins the conversation and tells her that she has two beautiful children. Repetition for the laugh. And while it doesn’t ring funny as I’ve explained it here, it is a standard playwright technique that Foster uses well, with callbacks to earlier lines, and it works. For now.
But afterwards, when we didn’t really enjoy the show, I started to wonder what went wrong? What was different?
Well, first of all, there are 20 scenes — 18 holes, plus the 19th hole, plus a little goodbye in the parking lot. That makes for a LOT of transitions and interruptions to the flow. It worked fine for The Foursome, but it was dragging for The Ladies Foursome.
The callbacks also started to grate. There was constant refs to her 2 beautiful children plus her son with the lazy eye as being not beautiful. Separate from just being non-PC or mean, the joke started to wear thin about the fourth call back. It was funny for two lines at the start, and then they flogged it to death. Similarly, there is a revelation that the guest who joins the trio is a gambling addict, and while her trying to make bets with them added some tension, it ultimately went nowhere, it ended up not being much of anything. In or out of the story, it made no difference to the outcome. Which then grated when they referred to it repeatedly long after the realization it wasn’t going to be relevant.
So these were technical, story problems, as the writing wasn’t up to normal standards. But I have to say, I think the cast failed the play too. We saw the second last performance, and by that point, most casts have the show down cold. While lots of people love the excitement of opening night, seeing it near the end of a short run means that timings are better, the cast will rarely miss a line, and if anything wasn’t working, it’s been tweaked. Even though it’s amateur theatre, they are usually nailing it near the end. In a long run, they might get tired, but on three weeks, they’re usually able to pull it off.
In this case, three of the characters flubbed multiple lines. I suspect some of that was technical — there is no real scene change for them from scene to scene, plus they’re really short, with no flow between them (i.e. some could be told out of order with no change in outcome). In other cases, they talked over each other’s lines.
Yet they also seemed to put emphases in areas where they shouldn’t have been. When they note that Dory, the guest, didn’t know that the deceased had won the lottery a few years before and thus didn’t know EVERYTHING about the dearly departed, the others had a sinister hook to it wondering what she’s up to, and when the gambling is introduced, BADLY as a throw-away line with no meat to it, you’re made to think THAT’s the link. Nope. There isn’t one. But more importantly, two of the characters delay leaving the scene so they can talk privately, and one asks the other, “What does she know? Do you think our friend told her everything? Does she know what we DID?”. Dun dun dun. There’s a hidden secret, a plot development to come that adds some tension. Except it isn’t. The hook is supposed to be what she knows and how deeply about them. But because the cast member emphasized “DID” over “everything”, we all were waiting for the big secret. Did they kill somebody? Rig a lottery? What did they DO? Nothing. They did nothing. And I heard other audience members asking the same head-scratcher as they left, “Wait, what about…”.
I may be a bit biased, as the fourth member of the cast is someone we know, but I felt she did the best job with what she had. I felt a couple of the scenes could have been better, but more better written than better delivered. And as Dory, she has the role of Fifth Business — important information to reveal at the end. Which she does.
Leaving most people in the audience scratching their heads. It is 2019, and spoiler alert, a character being gay isn’t enough to get fired from her teaching job. If they had added a wrinkle of it being the ’80s or if it was a Catholic School Board, SOMETHING, or that Dory herself had been a distant Brokeback Mountain-style lover undercover, there would have been SOMETHING. Or add an estranged husband that was basically a beard. Instead, the revelation just fell flat. And honestly, considering everything else that was shared between the four, it’s hard to believe that the big supportive emotionally available departed friend never shared ANYTHING with any of the other three. She even had a partner she was seeing. Really? Everything you learn about the woman who died does NOT equate to her keeping her sexuality a secret. It just doesn’t seem to fit.
So we were disappointed overall. I think there’s a good story buried in there somewhere, but it drastically needs an editor and a better cast to deliver.