Somehow I don't think that it is mere coincidence that Newton's New Repertory Theatre opened its season with a production of Carter W. Lewis' "Golf with Alan Shepard" at just about the moment that the golf world convened for the Ryder Cup right down the road, at The Country Club. It's not as if Rick Lombardo didn't anticipate that event. The New Rep's director admits to being "an avid golfer". The Club is on the other side of the Newton town line, in Brookline, but it is a close enough neighbor that the Ryder Cup crowd and the associated hoopla cut off Newton commuters and brought neighborhood shopping to a standstill. I sincerely hope that a bevy or two of those golf fans flocked to the New Rep production and had a marvelous time, because I must admit that with somewhat less than zero interest in the game I just didn't grok Lewis' "Golf"with or without Alan Shepard.
Lewis follows the round of a veteran foursome, the oldest nearly eighty and the others not much younger. With seven stars of the sixty and over cohort of local actors busy being brilliant in "Morning's at Seven" downtown at the Lyric, you might think that Lombardo would have to import some high powered geezers from New York, or field a B team. But not sothe Boston area has real depth in this department, and Lombardo hired himself a Fearsome Foursome. Michael Bradshaw's curmudgeonly eldest golfer, Griff, is nearly blind and bent like a pretzel, but he can still whallop the ball and zing out a crippling insult. Competition, winningat whatever level and by any means necessarykeeps Griff alive and in the game. His energy keeps Ed Sorrell's Milt in the game, too, even though Milt is a poor substitute for his champion brother Kenny, who was Griff's partner until he dropped dead on the 16th hole. Griff keeps rubbing it in: he saved Kenny's life back in W.W.II, and forged a brotherly bond with Ken that cut Milt out. Sorrell rolls with the punches and bounces back, earning his own measure of respect. James Bodge is engaging as Ned, a duffer who has recently lost his dearly loved wife and subsequently acquired a sublime relaxation that improved his golf game beyond recognition. Now old Ned can't miss. He doesn't even have to look at the ball. Ned can sink a putt with his back turned and his eyes closed, singing "Stardust". This character's simplicity is an acting challenge, and Bodge gave his Ned a glow of warmth indicative of banked fires. William Young plays an unfrocked priest named Larkin whose lover's quarrel with his God supplies the ex priest and his golf buddies plenty of material, food for thought and a subject for some jokes that, mercifully, aren't about golf.. Young makes the most of the material he's given: by turns sly, shy, superior, quirky, shamed and serene. But he's given a bit too much of it. Even with the wit and the shadings, Larkin is just too fond of his own notions and the sound of his own voice.
Kristin Loeffler's set is rather wonderful, something between a kooky miniature golf course and an Edenic moonscape. It has to be, to tie in Alan Shepard's unearthly golf ball, launched into space in one giant swing for Mankind. Loeffler's costumes are good, toougly, garish, and unflattering. Lombardo's staging is sweetly surreal, underlining the allegory and highlighting the athleticism of the actors even as it illustrates the deterioration of the athletic abilities of the characters they are playing. Daniel Meeker does spectacular things to the set's sky with his lights, including a concluding miracle in concert with Nicole Miller's witty props.
The vagaries of the rich man's sport, which one of the characters describes as "something we do while we're desperately waiting for something to happen," provide author Lewis with matter for metaphysical speculation, revelation of character, meditations on mortality, Beckettian takes on pastimes and the passing of timeand about a thousand moldy old golf jokes, most of which went past me. I can't really say if that's because they were over my head or because they were beneath my notice. As for the other stuffwell, I find meditations on mortality more interesting with every passing year. I hope to play tennis with geezer foursomes well into my eighties, myself, and have begun to listen intently when older players describe their aches and sprains and the miracle nostrums that patch them up to play another set, another season. However, none of the shots in Lewis' game really hit me where I live. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.