THE COUNTRY CLUB

Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September, 2002

The Country Club is an entertaining play, and one that is just the ideal size and shape for a production at the Theater Barn. A mostly able cast, many of them hold-overs from the Barnís summer season, are put through their paces in a solid production directed by Brad Malow. While there are a few flies in the ointment, The Country Club provides an entertaining evening of theatre, and something a little out of the ordinary for the Theater Barnís fall season.

Since playwright Douglas Carter Beane, made his name with the off-Broadway hit As Bees In Honey Drown a few years back attention has turned to this earlier, and, in my opinion, stronger play. The Country Club had its world premiere just up the road at the Dorset Theatre Festival in the summer of 1989, but didnít get a New York production until a decade later.

Like Bees The Country Club shines the bright light of satire on the American upper classes. As the title implies, this show follows a group of six young men and women who grew up in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, an affluent suburb of Reading, and who all like to hang out in the Cub Room of the local country club celebrating endless holidays with the kind of dull parties that WASPs are famous for. A seventh character, an Italian-American woman from Philadelphia, marries in to the crowd but cannot and does not crack their tightly knit clique.

The less than shocking message of Beaneís play is that money cannot buy happiness, but it is a tale well told. Beane obviously knows and loves these characters: Soos (Christine Meyers), the girl who tried to escape the clutches of the clique by marrying and moving to California, only to find herself back at the country club and in the arms of her prep school sweetheart within a year. Froggy (Jessica Taylor) and Bri (Brad Seal), the newly married couple who dwell entirely in the country club culture and know no other life. Pooker (Jennifer R. Terrell) a woman who is ashamed to bring her boyfriend, who she loves, to the club because he isnít ďcute.Ē And the two ďbad boysĒ of the bunch, Zip (Anthony Devine) and Hutch (Robert McCaffrey) who are desperately clinging to the sharp edges of adolescence as they slip into the abyss of maturity and responsibility. Hutch marries Chloe (Segali Hamberger), the aforementioned Philly girl, and Zip falls hopelessly in love with his best friendís wife, having an affair with her in spite of his still deep feelings for Soos.

While we see all of this transpire, no one actually talks about it, according to the time-honored code of the WASP.

Devine and McCaffrey anchor the show as Zip and Hutch, with fine, energetic performances. Meyers, who I had trouble hearing in her first Theater Barn performance, comes through loud and clear here, and is moving as the vulnerable and wounded Soos. Terrell, Taylor, and Seal mostly provide the comic relief and they do it very well. Costume designer Lesley Neilson-Bowman keeps everyone dressed in hilarious and flattering holiday-themed attire.

The weak link here is Hamberger as Chloe. She is a striking looking woman, and she claims that Sigali Hamberger is her real name, but neither of those memorable facts make her an actress. Her accent, which sounds more Bronx than Philly, comes and goes, and her timing is abysmal. For all that she doesnít drag the show down, and she is easy on the eyes.

There are definitely some racy moments in The Country Club. Other productions have featured nude scenes, but the Theater Barn keeps the naughty parts more or less covered up. This is not to say that the show is in any way offense or shocking, because it isnít. It simply presents normal adult human emotions such as love, lust, jealousy, friendship, and fear.

Abe Phelps has built another attractive and functional set, which is well-lit by Allen Phelps. A series of cheesy holiday wall decorations keep us moving through the year with Soos, Pooker, Zip, Hutch, Froggy, Bri, and Chloe. I especially liked the plastic Santa head.

The Country Club runs weekends through September 22 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs an hour and 50 minutes with one intermission. Folks cavort in their underwear, there are some sexual situations and adult language. Better keep small children home. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002

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