Take four women who golf together once a week and follow them around the course. It’s a simple enough setup that could make a funny play with a couple of narrative tweaks and a writer who knows what she or he is doing.
The straightforward premise of Norm Foster’s “The Ladies Foursome,” which opened Sunday night at the B Street Theatre in its American premiere, aims straight down the fairway and then goes there. As any golfer knows, hitting the ball where you want to is easier said than done, but Foster efficiently pars the hole with his veteran savvy.
The accessible Canadian playwright has become that country’s most-produced dramatist. B Street has had several successes with Foster’s plays, including “The Melville Boys,” “The Motor Trade,” “Drinking Alone,” “Wrong for Each Other” and “The Foursome,” the men’s prequel to “The Ladies Foursome.”
Foster and B Street have certainly developed a symbiotic relationship with the playwright’s subtle craft mirroring B Street’s own. As the company’s producing artistic director, Buck Busfield pointed out in his curtain speech that popular Main Stage productions of works like Foster’s allow B Street the flexibility to also produce shows such as the very different impressionistic spectacle “Conference of the Birds” on its B3 Stage.
In “The Ladies Foursome,” Foster takes three women who have held a regular weekly golf date for 14 years and adds a fourth whom they have never met. Connie (Melinda Parrett), Tate (Tara Sissom), and Margot (Amy Kelly) are longtime pals with shared history and firmly set emotional connections.
Just the day before they attended the funeral of their fourth partner, Kathy, who died after being struck by lightning while sitting atop a Ferris wheel. They’ve recruited a substitute fourth for this memorial round, bringing in Dory (Shannon Mahoney), a distant friend of Kathy’s.
The actors form a strong, versatile quartet with Mahoney making her B Street debut alongside three familiar performers with the company. Each has multiple strengths, though Parrett and Kelly stand out for their sharp timing, Sissom for her exquisite reactions and Mahoney for her detailed focus. In every scene they swing their golf clubs with confidence and appropriate athletic abilities.
The play follows the women around the course for 18 holes with the new Dory serving as an overly curious inquisitor asking probing questions of the other three whenever she can.
We quickly learn each woman’s basic outline: Connie is the perpetually randy alpha female who works as a television news anchor; Margot a beer-drinking workaholic estranged from her adult daughter; Tate a stay-at-home mom with a surgeon husband and three kids. Dory’s story and temperament have curious edges to them, and there’s definitely a sense more will be revealed than simply her work running a vacation resort with her husband and their six kids.
Foster’s strongest attributes lie in setting up the comedy, planting jokes he can expand and come back to while also creating character relationships that have their own inherent humorous dynamics. There’s lots of sex talk and a fair amount of “where did our dreams go” for counterpoint.
While Foster builds his smoothly flowing laugh machine, the story has to be wrangled a bit, so he tosses in a few plot twists that give drama to hang the humor on. The more dramatic backstory Foster fills in, the less interesting the play becomes as a whole; still, he’s just able to grasp an emotionally viable resolution.
Director David Pierini works a smart pace through the numerous short scenes, creatively altering the angles of action on Samantha Reno’s multilevel set. This is B Street in its sweet spot, avoiding the rough and hitting a well-struck ball.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.