Fortunately, I have no need for plan A, B or C. The show lives up to its billing. I couldn’t have used the corny golf jokes anyway. The show’s author, Carter W. Lewis, uses up the entire inventory in the space of two hours.
In short, this is the story of four septuagenarian duffers and a round of golf. Griff (Bill Sullivan) is only a few tantrums shy of a defibrillator. His volatility generates much of the conflict that keeps the play moving. He is also the subject of several running gags that the cast deftly executes throughout the play: He once destroyed a turtle with a golf club; he has a pathological hatred of tennis players; and he periodically confuses his years in uniform with recent events.
Milt (Woody Eney) always skips the 16th hole because his brother, Kenny, died on the green. Eney’s fine comic timing is put to good use because wide-eyed Milt is always a beat or two behind the other characters.
Because of a dalliance with a young waitress, Larkin has been driven from the priesthood into alcohol and a crisis of faith. In Kilgore’s able performance, Larkin’s moral authority has decayed considerably but is still tangible.
After years of terrible play, Ned (John Hagadorn) now makes shot after shot. In a classic use of Hitchcock’s MacGuffin, the other players believe the secret of Ned’s success is contained in a small wooden box that he carries in his bag. As a man grieving for his deceased wife, Hagadorn’s unadorned innocence sweetens the emotional center of the play.
This play shouldn’t work. The story is almost nonexistent, some of the jokes are retreads, and there’s an overabundance of chicken-soup-for-the-soul pronouncements about mortality and the nature of old age. However, many of the gags are hilarious. In fact, one of Griff’s World War II stories nearly sent the opening night audience into apoplexy. And under Kilgore’s direction, the play is all the more touching because these crusty old characters (and this cast) steadfastly refuse to indulge in schmaltz.
Most plays about old age will inevitably chip away at pretense to get at what’s truly important about life and death. So it’s appropriate that Jason Winebarger’s composite set is simple and straightforward. Covered in artificial turf, it includes a tee, a green, a bench and a lunch patio. Likewise, Steve Koehler’s lights are direct and uncomplicated.
The campy ending has only the remotest of connections to the play itself. But it is theatrical and goofy, and somehow oddly satisfying. Like the rest of the show, it neither demands nor requires a “gimme.” S
“Golf with Alan Shepard” continues through Sept. 21 at Barksdale Theatre. Tickets cost $22-$32. Call 282-2620.
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