MONDAY, MAY 16, 2016, 3:13 P.M.

‘Ladies Foursome’ at the Modern a bittersweet day on the links

By Nathan Weinbendernathanw@spokesman.com(509) 459-5024

The Modern Theater Spokane stages “The Ladies Foursome” through May 29. (Daniel D. Baumer)

The Modern Theater Spokane stages “The Ladies Foursome” through May 29. (Daniel D. Baumer)

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“The Ladies Foursome,” reviewed Sunday, runs through May 29 at the Modern Theater Spokane, 174 S. Howard St. Tickets are available through the Modern’s box office at (509) 455-7529 and at moderntheater.org.

Nearly every week for the past 14 years, the same four women have gathered at the same fairway to play 18 holes of golf. As Norm Foster’s comedy “The Ladies Foursome” opens, one of those women has passed away. Her name was Catherine, and she died after being struck by lightning at the top of a Ferris wheel.

That morbid detail suggests a more farcical play than we eventually get, which is actually a relief. “The Ladies Foursome,” directed for the Modern Theater Spokane by Dawn Taylor Reinhardt, is a show that remains winsome and buoyant in the face of weighty, potentially melodramatic themes, weaving from heartache to humor while creating a quartet of memorable and unpredictable characters.

The play opens on the day after Catherine’s funeral, and her regular golf companions have gathered for their weekly game. There’s Margot (Marianne McLaughlin), who runs a construction company, Connie (Callie McKinney Cabe), a TV news anchor, and Tate (Nancy Gasper), a stay-at-home mother with a surgeon for a husband.

Taking Catherine’s place is a woman named Dory (Sarah Miller), who none of the other women know. She runs a lodge deep in the Canadian wilderness, where Catherine reportedly spent several weeks every summer for the last 12 years, and she’s in town for the funeral.

Margot and Tate treat the game as a lark: “Where else can you drink this early in the morning and people think it’s normal?” Margot observes, sipping a beer at 8:30 a.m. But Connie, who’s never lost in 14 years, seems quietly intimidated by the interloper, and soon she and Dory have privately placed a substantial bet on the outcome of the game.

Dory’s presence turns out to be the variable that changes the tone of this particular golf game. The women discuss things they never have before – their sex lives, the difficulties of raising children, faith, fidelity, friendship, and the existence of God and an afterlife (“If God was a woman, She wouldn’t have rested on the seventh day,” Connie observes).

They also start to examine how the men in their lives have affected them. Margot inherited her business from her father, and her dedication to it drove her husband away. Connie’s husband, meanwhile, died years ago, and she’s since gone through a series of affairs, including with Catherine’s brother and Margot’s current boyfriend. Tate is suffocated by being limited to the role of wife and mother, and Dory reveals that she sacrificed her dreams of becoming a Vegas singer to raise six kids with her husband.

Catherine’s absence also inspires some quiet reflection, especially when the women come to realize she had kept secrets from them. And since Dory knew Catherine independently of the other three women, and because Catherine supposedly confided in Dory, she turns out to know things about Margot, Tate and Connie that they don’t know about one another.

Foster drops a few bombshells, but they’re mostly minor. The dramatic stakes of “The Ladies Foursome” arise not from its revelations but from how the characters react to what they learn: Imagine discovering that a person you considered a close friend had withheld important details about her life from you, and trying not to take it personally.

For material like this to work, the characters have to remain authentic, and they mostly do, thanks to Reinhardt’s direction and her brilliant cast. This is no surprise, since Reinhardt’s last few Modern productions, including “Reasons to Be Happy” and the devastating “Other Desert Cities” (also starring McLaughlin and Miller), have proved that she knows how to work wonders with small ensembles.

McLaughlin and Cabe are the obvious choices for Margot and Connie, both equally stubborn and easily wounded. Gasper brings the right mixture of vulnerability and naivete to Tate, whose persona of a pert housewife bedecked in pink is a desperate act. Miller is excellent, too, as the unexpected agent of chaos, and her impromptu musical performance that closes the show hits the right bittersweet note.

There are plenty of laughs in “The Ladies Foursome” – if it has a downfall, it’s that the dialogue is often too front-loaded with quips and one-liners – but it’s really a show about living in the moment and the regret that sets in when you don’t. By the end of Act 2, I was surprised at how much I had come to like these characters and enjoy their company. If Foster chooses to check in on them again, maybe five years down the road, I wouldn’t mind seeing what they’re up to.

PUBLISHED: MAY 16, 2016, 3:13 P.M. 

Tags: Theater, Theater review, the Modern Theater Spokane