Men With Clubs

Men With Clubs

Play: Men With Clubs

Group: HotCity Theatre

Venue: ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington

Dates: May 1,2,3,4,8,9,10

Tickets: From $15 to $20; contact 314-289-4063

Story: Four high school friends, now living in different parts of the country, renew their 18th annual get-together on the golf course. This time around, though, Clay has some issues on his mind that exacerbate his already bad attempts at the game. The media relations expert joins lawyer Hammer, ophthalmologist Wood and architectural employee Rich on a special trip in November around the links at a Missouri golf course as they reminisce about the past and contemplate the future in their own virile ways, only to find themselves in a sudden and unexpected adventure.

Highlights: This two-act work by Gregory Jones is being given its world premiere by HotCity Theatre, which graduated Jones’ comedy-drama from the troupe’s GreenHouse New Play Festival last August. The playwright loosely based his play on his own experiences with some childhood friends. Under the able direction of Annamaria Pileggi and with some solid acting by a quartet of players, Jones’ work is given a credible production even if it can’t mask the myriad problems with the script.

Travis Estes satisfactorily portrays the uncertainty and unhappiness of Clay, who’s spent a lifetime in the shadows of his friends, still trying to carve out a niche for himself. Tyler Vickers hides his haunting childhood vulnerability beneath a cool, Clint Eastwood exterior, while Christopher Lawyer’s eye doctor fervently foists his newfound religion upon his cadre of annual pals. Jared Sanz-Agero completes the foursome as the foul-mouthed Rich, whose swaggering braggadocio belies his humble status.

Other Info: Scott DeBroux’s starkly spartan design allows for the players, both in the script and on the stage, to freely express themselves beyond the restraint of physical impediments, although a hidden sand trap adds a nice touch. Sean Savoie’s lean sound design incorporates the familiar sounds of a driver striking a ball or a putt falling into the cup on a green, and Kimberly Klearman’s lighting suitably shines the focus on each character at various times. Scott Breihan’s costumes capture the look of the accomplished player (Hammer) in golf togs and shoes as well as the uninspired garb of Clay or Rich’s haphazard attire.

Other Info: Pileggi moves the work surely and briskly through its two acts, but she can’t disguise some shoddy writing in the first act, although the second half redeems the story to an extent. Questions to ponder include selecting the dicey month of November for a golf outing in Missouri, why Clay continues to play when he doesn’t even like the game, and how the foursome even hooked up when two of them, Rich and Wood, are really more acquaintances than friends. Additionally, the dialogue is particularly forced and overly exaggerated in the first act, fortunately salvaged by Sanz-Agero’s fine delivery and amusing physical comedy.

There’s a decent enough story somewhere on the course in Men with Clubs, but right now it’s buried in some gnarly, deep rough.

Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.