Confrontational and hilarious, Norm Foster's The Ladies Foursome putts its way into the green of our hearts through an array of outrageously wild swings. The play follows the story of three women, who invite a fourth to play in their weekly golf game after their close friend dies in a tragic accident. Brenda Bazinet directs this fast paced comedy that—under the surface of the fairway—acts as a potent reminder of the abruptness of death, the importance of loyalty, and the exceptional power of women in a sport, and society, dominated by a presence of patriarchy.
Space can make or break a show, and at a location like The Grand Theatre, it is crucial that a performance be equally as grand—especially a comedy. The Grand is not only massive, but half of the space's audience resides in balcony seats on the upper level, where I happened to be sitting during the show. As it was opening night for The Ladies Foursome, the entire show seemed to be an adjustment period of the actresses getting a feel for the space. When the show began, and again after the intermission, all four of the women seemed to greatly underestimate the size of the theatre by keeping the volume of their voices almost inaudible from the balconies. Gradually, volume rose as they became accustomed to their space. With the exception of Marci T House (the actress of Dory) whose physicality brought her to every back corner of the hall, the actresses continued to play exclusively to the audience on the lower level with their limited use of proper blocking. This issue was especially prominent when the actresses were speaking one-on-one with each other. On more than one occasion, they faced each other head on, most likely allowing for limited visibility from the lower level, let alone the balconies. A space of such a size and build worked against their performances, and I think pushing the energy up to a level that might seem absurd for a smaller practice location would be more beneficial to performing in The Grand.
An aspect of the space that did add to the show's sentimental feel was the flawless relationship between set and lighting. From the first moment I saw the stage, I was awe struck by the level of depth the backdrop of the stage provided. The beautiful simplistic set—designed by Dana Osborne— and the precise lighting cues, designed by Michelle Ramsay, united to create a breathless summer sky that seemed to venture off forever. The backdrop not only gave the piece a shining quality, but its lack of an ending only reinforces the unpredictable nature of the women's futures at the play's end. Will the foursome remain friends? Will their aspirations and dreams ever play out? It is truly remarkable watching these questions play out artistically on the set as well as in the script.
The actresses themselves were alive and bursting with the fast paced wit and nerve of their script. Each woman brought her own style, and together they seamlessly meshed into a hard-hitting force of a cast. Dana Osborne's artistic decision as costume designer to dress the women in 4 different colours only pushed their characters to higher comedic levels: together they stand united, but individually they shine just as brightly. Sarah Orenstein's portrayal of Connie was particularly strong, and held the "larger than life" quality audiences so often look for in comedies. Orenstein rose her outrageous character from the boiling point of gut bursting hilarity, to a silent self contemplative state of mourning for her lost husband, all while firmly planted on stage as a woman of strength and rebellion. Her performance certainly embodied the piece's tenacity and charisma. I was fortunate enough to view another of Sarah Orenstein's performances late last year as The White Queen in the Stratford Festival's "Alice Through the Looking Glass", which— alongside her work as Connie— very much showcases her wide range of acting ability. Though two very different characters of opposite worlds, both roles are grounded by Orenstein's keen comic timing, exceptional chemistry with her cast members, and a performance wrapped in the shiny paper of amusing facial expressions. She is nothing less than the perfect weight on the opposing end of the scale for Marci T House, who not only matches Orenstein's vigor, but passes the skill of her fellow cast members with her energy as the play progresses. House, who plays the character of Dory, begins at a steady level of interest on stage, yet little by little, she makes the climb to higher and higher levels of comedy until she is all the audience can keep their eyes on. A slow build of exaggerated mannerisms, saucier lines, and heartfelt interactions with the others easily makes her the most interesting of the four by the end of the piece. The scenes in which the two actresses worked alone together on stage held a massive presence: in these few moments, they owned The Grand Theatre.
What I think resonated with me most about "The Ladies Foursome", were the instances of the piece that touched on issues above itself. On the surface, it was a comedy about women on a golf course, but the parts of the script that spoke about the naivety and helplessness of princesses, and how only good looking women are able to acquire jobs as news anchors, hit hard with their undeniable truth and relevance to our lives. There is something to be said for four strong, talented, and united women—as themselves and their characters—who can take a play whose origins involved a cast of four males, and smash through the misogyny of the theatre world with their swings. Next time I'm on the golf course, I'll be yelling "Four!" with a hell of a lot more conviction.
Special thanks to Kate from The Grand Theatre, for helping ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience for all.
"The Ladies Foursome" will continue to play from January 23rd until February 7th at 8pm, at The Grand Theatre. Call today for tickets at (519) 672-8800.