WASPs are getting it in the neck again in “The Country Club,” this time with a wildly swung sledgehammer rather than a sympathetic scalpel. Douglas Carter Beane’s early play has funny lines, funny scenes even, but given Beane’s penchant for wisecracks, director Christopher Ashley’s pushiness and the cast’s tendency to shout, “The Country Club” plays like exaggerated farce.
The play predates Beane’s current Off Broadway hit, “As Bees in Honey Drown,” and received small productions by Vermont’s Dorset Theater Festival and Los Angeles’ Mojo Ensemble several years ago. Long Wharf Theater has mounted it lavishly, with set designer James Youmans’ country club “cub room” resplendent as holiday after holiday is celebrated with ennui-relieving parties.
Jess Goldstein’s costumes, blandly tasteful for the empty, snobbish, younger country club members, and blatantly “tasteless” for the Italian outsider who invades their cloistered world, also help create the right atmosphere.
But on the whole, Beane’s characters are a tiresome lot as they go through their repetitive routines without ever truly growing up or living, and the men tend to be one-dimensional, particularly the club’s drunk, Hutch (Alan Tudyk), and milquetoast Bri (Peter Benson). Naturally, the country club’s younger set — they appear to be in their late 20s or early 30s — have a slew of cutesy-poo nicknames; there are also Soos (Marianne Hagan), Pooker (Johanna Day) , Froggy (Amy Sedaris) and Zip (Kurt Deutsch).
Only Italian interloper Chloe (Amanda Peet), who marries Hutch and is quickly seduced by Hutch’s best friend, Zip, is known by her real name, presumably because she the only “real” person in the group.
Set in Beane’s hometown of Wyomissing, Pa., and based on his own country club experiences there, the play includes smoking, drinking, nudity and a lot of bitchiness. But its surface cleverness is ultimately as empty as the lives of its characters, and its ending seems an unconvincing attempt at turning the play into romantic comedy.
The actors seem entirely right for the characters they’re playing, but have been allowed to be far too aggressive vocally and physically. A mite more subtlety from everyone involved with “The Country Club” would improve it considerably.