Arts & Culture

Manatee Players take a low-key look at friendship

Canada is famous for great comedians and great comedy shows. Our neighbors to the north gave us the Second City and SCTV people, many of the best "Saturday Night Live" cast members, the Kids in the Hall and the post-modern clowns Mump and Smoot. And lots of others.

That makes it a bit bewildering that Norm Foster, who's known as a comic writer in the vein of Neil Simon, Canada's most frequently produced playwright. Judging by "The Foursome," Foster's not very funny.

The current production of "The Foursome" from the Manatee Players doesn't elicit any big laughs at all, and not even a whole lot of chuckles.

It's by no means a bad play, though. It's a very pleasant, low-key look at enduring friendships.

Foster structures his play around a golf game, with four old college buddies hitting the links the morning after their 10th reunion. Their back stories emerge and their relationships change through vignettes that play out at each of the 18 tees.

The four actors -- Tal Reeve, Carl MacMichael, Colin Brady and Alex Beach, directed by James Thaggard -- are all solid. Reeve delivers the strongest performance of the four, which is kind of shame because his character is by far the least likeable.

There's also a limited but interesting and attractive set designed by Ralph Nurmela.

Foster's masterful in the way he doles out bits of characters' background and of the relationships among the four men, bit by bit, as the golf game progresses. You never go too long without learning some new secret or tantalizing bit of information. It feels a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, with the playwright handing you pieces at regular intervals that eventually form a complete picture.

That's one reason why the play is stronger in its second act. Foster stops going for laughs that he never gets, the play develops more heart and the audience starts to become intrigued by the four characters.

With 18 holes on a golf course, and therefore 18 vignettes plus an epilogue in the play, "The Foursome" is overlog. The exposition is too leisurely and the recurring gags get old well before the back nine.

Still, thanks to Foster and the Manatee Players cast, the play ends up being a slight, but very amiable character study.

Funny it is not, though, and it often seems that it is trying to be. But as long as you don't go in expecting comedy, you probably won't be disappointed.

Details: Through Feb. 1 in the Bradenton Kiwianis Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26. Information: 941-748-5875,

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow