"Joe, we'll be happy, Joe, won't we?" Maggie, the amorous teenager says to her betrothed in Winners, one of two plays in Irish playwright Brian Friel's Lovers, which West End Players Guild opened last Friday at the Union Avenue Christian Church.
The answer is "probably not," but it's hard not to pull for Maggie (Betsy Bowman), a girl whose youth and optimism is made all the more heartbreaking by her circumstances: Pregnant at seventeen, she's bound to marry Joe (John Lampe), a schoolboy of dubious stock and uncertain prospects. But in this production we are asked to put our future concerns aside for the moment, and simply soak in the contradictory rush of passion, fear, trust, jealousy, hope and despair these two experience on an unseasonably warm day in June 1966. Their afternoon, poignant on its own, is made all more affecting by the pair of narrators who sit off to the side and tell us what we already know: Life won't be easy for these two.
The second play, Losers, uses a similar narrative conceit. But here we follow Andy Tracey (Colin Nichols) and Hanna Wilson-Tracey (Theresa Masters), a middle-aged couple whose early passion was extinguished soon after they wed.
The casts in both plays are strong, but there's really no overcoming the weaknesses of Friel's script. Both plays are very talky, with no real character development or even action to speak of. The play's staging doesn't help much either. Much of the action is at ground level, making it difficult to see past larger audience members, while also affording glimpses of props from the first play that have been unceremoniously shoved aside during the second. The net result is that Lovers, which does have some nice acting, as well as some funny and poignant moments, feels longer than it ought to — sort of like a love affair that has run its course.
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