Encore Michigan

Tipping Point tees up The Foursome for laughs and male bonding

Review September 21, 2015 Jenn McKee

Where would a men’s counterpart to “Steel Magnolias” – set in a Southern, small-town beauty salon – take place?

A golf course, if Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s The Foursome, now being staged at Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre, is any indication.

foursomeIn the show, four male business school buddies have been brought back together by a 15-year class reunion, and they spend the following day playing a round of golf. There’s pompous, single con-man Rick (Patrick O’Connor Cronin), who’s moved to Florida; happily married father of five, Donnie (Brandon Grantz); always-anxious Cameron (Patrick Loos), who sells ad time for a TV station; and Ted, a professionally successful divorced man who’s trying marriage a second time with a woman 13 years his junior.

The play’s premise works precisely because although these men were once close, years spent apart means that they each have secrets – several of which come to light over the course of 18 holes. Nostalgia initially brings the foursome together, but early in this long day each man realizes that they are nonetheless mysteries to each other.

That’s not to say the play – directed by Dave Davies – isn’t funny. The friends’ competitiveness with each other, some sharp-tongued teasing, a little back-9 bamboozling, and newbie golfer Donnie’s outlandish swings add up to a number of laughs. And in one instance, when things become tense, The Foursome’s cast earns big laughs without uttering a word, as they each arrive on the stage’s green, grumpily take a swing and move on to the next hole.

Davies has the actors swing their clubs in a new direction for each scene, to achieve the illusion of progressing from hole to hole, while a projected backdrop offers changing golf course views as well. Monika Essen’s lush, sloping, contoured golf-course set is accented with rocks and ferns, with a white trellis framing the projection screen upstage.

Rob Murphy’s lighting design suggests sunlight peeking through the trees on the course, and Julia Garlotte’s sound design is a dream-come-true for Gen-Xers. Because the men reminisce about their college years together in the ‘80s, pop music from that era provide the play with its soundtrack. (After one particularly sensitive exchange, Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” leads us into the next scene).

Costume designer Katherine Nelson does a fine job conveying each man’s personality (and anxieties) through their clothes, scoring a particular win by way of Cameron’s painfully awful, orange-and-white argyle pants. And Andy Gaitens designed the play’s props – from propped up golf bags to goofy club covers.

With Davies at the helm of The Foursome, the 4-man ensemble scores an eagle. The actors play off one another with a great sense of rivalry and affection, but they don’t shy away from really sticking it to each other too. Grantz’s outsized golf swings cracked me up several times – sometimes the running gag just works, folks – and Cronin is pitch-perfect as the guy who admits that he’s never quite outgrown being a jerk.

There are squirmy, uncomforable moments when Rick’s making fun of Cameron’s figure skating, dance-class-attending son (sigh), and Foster doesn’t exactly nail the dismount, in terms of the play’s end. There’s a sense of a good-enough ending rather than a satisfying one (a bogey, I guess?).

But given other stage comedies I’ve seen about male friendship, The Foursome comes closest to actually capturing something true with substance and humor combined.

Indeed, it reminded me how once, when my husband spent time with friends, I asked him what they talked about, and he said, “When guys get together, it’s not like when women get together.” Perhaps not. But The Foursome left me thinking that regardless of whether it’s men or women, we all make time for these gatherings because we seek similar things: validation, fellowship, the truths we can’t see for ourselves, and human connection.

Running time: 2 hours.

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