Alison Darcy wasn’t surprised that friendship figured in landing her newest directing assignment, The Ladies Foursome running June 22-July 10 at Hudson Village Theatre (HVT).
After all, she’s known HVT’s artistic director, Matthew Tiffin, from his days with Gravy Bath Theatre that shared an indie outlook with her own Scapegoat Carnivale and both of their troupes had done stints as the Segal Centre’s resident theatre company.
“We have a solid mutual respect for each other’s art,” says Darcy. “But when he called me up out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to direct The Ladies Foursome, my first question was, ‘Why would you ever suggest a Norm Foster to me?’ The only answer I could think of was he was curious to see what I would do with it!”
Foster’s mainstream comedy, set on an 18-hole golf course, is far from her usual indie mandate of promoting “provocative material independent of the commercial establishment.” But perhaps Tiffin’s success in delighting summer theatre audiences eager for escapist entertainment prompted his confidence in Darcy to do the same.
“At first I couldn’t imagine how I was going to connect with it, but as I was reading the script I begrudgingly started laughing and enjoying it and began to think about it as a personal challenge to explore a completely different style of theatre,” she says.
Foster is known as the Neil Simon of Canadian theatre with more than 50 professionally produced comedies to his credit.
Foursome places friends on a fairway, playing a tribute round of golf in memory of the recently deceased member of their group who has been replaced for the occasion by an acquaintance of hers they have never met.
The stranger challenges the dynamic of the group with hilarious as well as poignant results. Darcy cast four queens of comedy in the roles, Susan Glover (who launched her career with Albert Nerenberg’s Theatre Shmeatre) as a tippling divorcée, Shannon Hamilton as a stay-at-home mom, Mary Harvey as a TV newswoman with an appetite for younger men, and Eleanor Noble as the new, instigating fourth.
That the play takes place outdoors posed its own challenges for set designer Jo-Anne Vézina, lighting/costume designer Cathia Pagotto and sound designer Joseph Browne who has more than the “tock” of golf balls to worry about.
“It took us a long time to figure out how to bring the outside inside and it’s not a huge space either,” says Darcy of the historic 148-seat venue that still functions as a train station. However, visualizing the play she’s directing is never an unsolvable problem for her.
Darcy grew up watching the space at Centaur Theatre, where her father Maurice Podbrey was artistic director, morph into everything from the peaks of a mountain in K2 to a Dublin tenement in Juno and the Paycock.
“A lot of times my babysitter was just me watching them rehearse,” says Darcy. Her mother Elsa Bolam, who co-founded Centaur with Podbrey in 1969, also launched Geordie Productions’ theatre for young audiences in 1980, setting a family precedent for their daughter to establish Scapegoat with Joseph Shragge and Melanie St. Jacques a decade ago.
Following Foursome, it’s back to indie theatre as Darcy applies to Scapegoat what she recently gleaned during a five-month Canada Council-sponsored research visit to Vancouver.
There she learned the ropes of devised theatre that “is about communal creation and even more exploratory than indie theatre.” Darcy, who is a graduate of the National Theatre School in acting and now teaches professional development there, also hopes to continue performing along with her directorial duties. But not before she’s gotten her Hudson cast onto the green and into the laughs.