A birdie for the middle class

The Foursome

Donnie (John Lamb) swings; Ted (David Pierini) talks. It’s golf.

Donnie (John Lamb) swings; Ted (David Pierini) talks. It’s golf.

Photo By Jennifer Freyer

B Street Theatre

2711 B St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 443-5300

Rated 4.0

When you visit his Web site, the first thing you learn about writer/actor Norm Foster is that he is “Canada’s most produced playwright.”

He’s now one of the most produced playwrights at Sacramento’s B Street Theatre as well. Its current production of The Foursome is the sixth Norm Foster script it’s staged since 1998.

“Most produced” is an interesting way to introduce oneself, and we don’t dispute its accuracy. Foster is prolific, having written something like 40 plays since 1980. And his plays get produced a lot, mostly by smaller companies. Now, there are some playwrights who specialize in eccentricity, and others that explore life’s dark side. That’s not Norm.

Foster is an affable storyteller of the middle class. His plays feature typical (by and large likable) people, working through the daily challenges that many of us face, in situations that (while nominally Canadian) are pretty universal.

The Foursome brings together four guys who were buddies in college and are now nearing 40, reunited for a class reunion. The play finds them on the golf course—not exactly a cutting-edge dramatic situation, but it’s a good platform for Foster, who divides his script into 18 conversations as they tee off. These brief scenes build up an audience-friendly pattern of setup and punch line that resembles TV situation comedy. Foster is sometimes compared to Neil Simon, the American playwright (now somewhat out of fashion; the B Street hasn’t done him in ages, if ever) who cut his teeth writing TV sketches in the ’50s.

But a better parallel would be Alan Alda, the actor/writer/director who parlayed a popular role on the TV series M*A*S*H into movies like 1981’s The Four Seasons, which dealt with middle-aged couples gathering for a reunion.

The Foursome is kinda like The Four Seasons, without the wives along. Inevitably, since these guys are easing into middle age, there’s boy talk about virility and health (or the lack thereof), as well as sexual conquests past and present. One guy is a slob (played by Dave Pierini) who has drifted into drink, as well as his second marriage (to a much younger woman). Another (John Lamb, in a good performance) has become a small-town businessman who’s fathered a house full of kids. A third (Allen McKelvey) is a bit of a womanizer and opportunist, projecting an air of independence, but harboring inward regrets. The fourth (Greg Alexander) is a cautious type who “lives vicariously” hearing the exploits of the others.

It’s basically a feel-good buddy comedy, with sufficient dramatic ballast to keep things from capsizing when the conversation turns a tad more serious after intermission. Many of the revelations in the second half are more or less predictable, but Foster (who began in commercial radio) knows how to craft an effective punch line, spoken by an “everyman” character. The ensemble acting—Alexander, Lamb and Pierini know each other’s moves—boosts the material. It’s interesting that a woman, Elisabeth Nunziato, directs, and quite successfully.

Ten years hence, will The Foursome stand out as memorable? I’m not so sure, and I’ve gotten hazy about the Foster comedies staged at the B Street 10 years ago (while other more ambitious shows from that era stand clearer in retrospect).

But will The Foursome keep audiences laughing this summer, and send ’em home smiling? A definite yes on both counts.