Crossing wide water and the examined life

The Ladies Foursome: A comedic hit for Theatre Orangeville

By James Matthews
Published: October 23, 2014

The Ladies Foursome at Theatre Orangeville. Jane Spence, Leah Oster, Sharon Heldt and Melanie Janzen. 2014.

Fancy sitting through about two hours of stage-play involving 18 holes of golf? Theatre Orangeville’s season-opening offering isn’t as arduous as that would suggest.

If you don’t have the time to read the rest of this, suffice to say The Ladies Foursome is of superb words in their most beautiful order, delivered by exceptional actresses who convincingly serve the audience measures of heartbreak, regret, humour, and love. The things that makes a life full, even when we say we’d rather our lives were bland and void of those life spices.

The Ladies Foursome is a story of weathering the existential dread that comes in death’s proximity. Weathering it with more than a sense of humour: tight dialogue, hilarious wit, and golf clubs. Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s new ticklish romp previewed in Orangeville at the Town Hall Opera House on Oct. 16 before it opened Oct. 17.

Directed by the superb Jesse Collins, the play will run until Nov. 2.

In the dramatic comedy, four women meet on a golf course after a friend’s death. Kathy, the deceased, and three of the women met annually over 14 years to take part in a day of golf. The foursome’s other member owns a wilderness lodge and got to know the deceased over 12 years of visits to the camp.

Beautifully dialogue-heavy, the women — played by actresses Leah Oster, Jane Spence, Sharon Heldt, and Melanie Janzen — struggle in the realization that everybody nurses secrets in life. No matter how close friends are to each other, facets remain unknown. That truism becomes apparent in how Kathy seems to be different people remembered by Dory of the lodge and the golf friends Connie, Tate, and Margot.

One of the beautiful things about The Ladies Foursome is how Foster’s characters inevitably foil the audience. Without breaking the fourth wall, the playwright engages the spectators such that they think about their own lives in relation to the play. The actresses’ depth of talent gives the play chops in that regard.

What’s the purpose of time but to tell us what time it is?

One of the metaphysical threads through it all: An epicurean frittering away of life vs. a pragmatist’s value of never allowing a day wasted. A death inevitably brings one to consider such things, yeah?

Connie, a journalist, at the outset seems a person who lives to indulge her sexual appetites at the expense of so-called meaningful, lasting relationships: “At my age, you don’t worry about getting a reputation,” she said. “You worry about keeping it.”

Tate’s circumstances: The picturesque life of a physician husband and three children uniformly spaced in age. The much sought-after Easy Life, coveted by many people.

Margot runs a construction company founded by her father. She’s successful and respected in an industry that’s stereotypically controlled by men. Manly men with hairy backs and sore muscles. And she loves a beer or six in the morning.

Dory, swept up in love with her husband, left a Las Vegas singing career to follow her man to Arrowhead Lodge where they live year-round with their six children.

They weren’t big dreams anyway

We all suffer life’s tragedies. The trick is not being consumed by heartbreak. The foursome and the departed Kathy become three-dimensional as their heartbreaks are coaxed to the fore.

As a writer, I could twist a handful of fancy phrases of pretty words to describe the characters’ evolution and how back-stories are revealed. That would be hollow vanity on my part and a sad loss for a reader who may be counted among the audience before Nov. 2 when the play ends. And spoiling it for you would be a disservice worthy of incontinence cursed upon me and all my trousers for a month.

If we’re lucky, we love someone. And someone loves us back

The foursome is stuck for a tribute to Kathy after the 18th hole. Then Spence’s caressing voice singing a capella: The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er./And neither have I the wings to fly./Build me a boat that can carry two,/And both shall row, my true love and I.