in DOUGLAS CARTER BEANE'S
"THE COUNTRY CLUB"
THE COUNTRY CLUB
The Drama Department has done it again - delivering a first class production at cut rate prices. If you can get tickets ($30) for Douglas Carter Beane's latest, The Country Club, by all means do - it provides more entertainment than anything on Broadway at five times the price.
The Country Club is inhabited by five wasp twenty-somethings, nicknamed Pooker, Zip, Soos, Froggy, Hutch and Bri. They're looking at thirty but acting more like 17. Still in the Wyomissing Pennsylvania country club's cub room, the place "for the kids to hang and smoke," we see them on eleven holidays over the course of a year. The play opens on New Year's Eve. Soos (Cynthia Nixon) is getting tips on how to speak WASP from Pooker (Amy Hohn).
Soos is back from California, clearly troubled by her recent divorce. She says she's in Wyomissing for the weekend, but we know better. So does Froggy, aka Louise, the now grown-up alpha-blonde of the Junior League set, played to control-freak perfection by Amy Sedaris. She barks, she points, she herds her husband Bri (and everyone else), and she does things with her face a special effects department would envy. Froggy already has plans for Soos to be hooked up with her high school sweetheart Zip (Tom Everett Scott), Mr. Good Time Guy, who makes his entrance totally nude. (It has to do with an adolescent prank re-enacted every year with the bibulous Hutch, played by Frederick Weller.)
Into this WASP nest comes Chloe, the working class, gum-snapping Italian Catholic from Philadelphia, to marry Hutch and provide a pivot point for the plot. She is much more than a plot device; she is a complete character, and as realized by Callie Thorne, has the most humanity of all those populating this dramedy. Poor unsophisticated Chloe believes in the Blessed Virgin Mary, sin and love, in contrast with the well-off clubbies whose outward self assurance masks an inner hollowness. But Beane doesn't tell us a message; he lets his characters show us. Cynthia Nixon's Soos is terrified by her capacity to numb the one person she loved, and her inability to really believe in, or feel, anything, though she clearly wants to. Bri (Peter Benson) blames his aimlessness on the times; if he were born in the Sixties he coulda been a protestor, he protests; now there's nothing to fight for. His whiney speech is in character and comes off as humorously ludicrous rather than an overt "message" stuck into the play. Amy Hohn's Pooker is the most well adjusted of the bunch. Besides knowing how to talk WASP, she also knows when WASPs don't talk: "Chloe is sleeping with Zip, I have a boyfriend who isn't cute whom I love, Froggy is filled with terror, Hutch is a drunk, Bri has an ulcer. We all have our little stories. And no one brings them up. That's what's known as community spirit."
First class writing, direction and performance conspire to propel The Country Club forward smoothly and swiftly. It has the feel of heightened reality rather than contrived wittiness. Where so much "smart" dialogue these days comes off as forced and precious, Beane's sounds like overheard conversations, concentrated for maximum entertainment value, but real. Likewise the action: for all the theatrics these are entirely believable characters behaving in entirely believable ways. And it's no accident: Beane grew up in Wyomissing Pennsylvania. Christopher Ashley directs The Country Club perfectly. It's a wonderful addition to a parade of wonderful productions that includes Communicating Doors, As Thousands Cheer and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Alexander Solzhenistsyn said prolonged well-being is detrimental to the organism. In The Country Club, we see the toll affluence and complacency have taken on the souls of these characters.
Donald Lyons of NYPOST.COM: "Amy Sedaris fills Froggy with such fussy, manic energy that we end up understanding and liking her. It's an extraordinary comic turn."
The Hollywood Reporter: The review praised "terrific" performers, including Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), and called Amy Sedaris "particularly hilarious".