Tuesday, April 1, 2003 _________________Entertainment __________ The Hamilton Spectator /D13

Wringing laughter from pain

The Foursome is a hilarious comedy featuring ordinary and vulnerable characters

by Gary Smith
Special to the Hamilton Spectator      

I couldn't care less about golf. It's the stupidest game I know. Trailing around after a little white ball, trying to sink it into a ridiculously small hole is dumb. I've tried it and I know and frankly, it makes me crazy. All right, I know it isn't really that I couldn't care less about golf, it's more like I can't do it....and that makes me nuts. And, you know, strange as it seems, my fairway failure makes me a perfect audience for The Foursome, Norm Foster's buddies-on-the-green comedy.

  Norm Foster, Frank McAnulty, Brian McKay and C. David Johnson star in Foster's comedy, The Foursome.

You see, Foster's foursome aren't great golfers either. The game is really a diversion, you understand, for more serious problems that beset these guys in life. And before we go any further, let's not beat around the clubhouse. The Foursome, with it's hilarious series of hole-in-one one liners is a straight drive down the fairway. Max Reimer and his crack team of actors don't just connect with the funnybone of Foster's comedy, they putt straight to the heart of what makes this warm and incredibly wise play passionately real and human. Four university buds get together for a reunion twenty-five years after graduation. They preen and posture like the randy roosters they once were. But along the way they uncomfortably shed what might best be described as elusive male skin. In the glint of bare bone and sinewy muscle that is exposed vulnerably from beneath a hopeful exterior, we realize these are flawed beings.

Rick is the seemingly macho stud parading his manhood at the expense of honest feelings. Ted is the boozer, belting back a six pack before the sun is barely up. Cameron is the insecure one, troubled about his waning sex life, struggling to keep up, desperate to be something more than the television ad salesman he uncomfortably is. That leaves Donnie, the family man from Pastor Falls, the guy who adores his wife, but feels somehow he's lost out on any serious post university action. You may have gathered by now Foster's characters are in every way, ordinary. That's what gives his hilarious reunion comedy it's emotional tug. These are people you feel you might know. So, when Foster's comedy turns a tad serious, as The Foursome reaches that troublesome ninth hole, you feel their passionate vulnerability. That's one of Foster's incredible strengths here. He understands this world of preposterous male rivalry. He knows the way the masculine heart tends to tick. But you know it goes infinitely deeper than that. Because Foster has such aching compassion for the characters he creates in this male empowered world, he punctuates his comedy with incredible pain. When inferior writers create comedies in which male bonding relies on the outrageous propulsion of vulgar shtick, Foster allows a glimpse of battered vulnerability. So, when his foursome strikes a familiar and touching pose, hoisting their golf clubs like rock and roll microphones to sing the socks off their buddy-boy song Oh,What A Night, it's sweetly touching.

In the end this isn't a comedy about golf. It's not even a comedy about men. It goes beyond anything quite that particular. No, The Foursome is a comedy about what time does to us all. It's about the way we sadly move away from life's possibilities as the years tumble on. And it's about the way memory intervenes in the present to create a seductive euphoria about the past.

At Theatre Aquarius, Foster's play is blessed with four endearing actors, consummate professionals who manage to make what could be obnoxious stereotypes into understandable flesh-and-blood creations. Frank McAnulty, Brian McKay, C. David Johnson, and the playwright himself are a tight performance unit, wringing every possible laugh from this very funny play without ever sacrificing Foster's warm and fuzzy moments.

With this hysterical golf-buddies comedy, director Max Reimer is unquestionably at the top of his game. He proves, as he did with that earlier Aquarius comedy, Sylvia, when it comes to wringing laughter from pain, there is simply no one else who is better. Even that Toronto and New York sophisticate Pam Wallin was falling about laughing. I still hate golf. I still get apoplectic whenever I think about the frustration of trying to sink a putt. But The Foursome with it's passionate understanding of the resilience of the human spirit, made me forget all about little white balls. Thanks guys. Give me a call. I'll gladly carry your clubs anytime.