Brian Friel isn't completely convinced love is a forever thing. As proved by the entertaining revival of Lovers presented by TACT at the Beckett Theatre, Friel lets audiences know how uncertain he is about the emotion that famously makes the world go round -- and he does it with the signature blend of humor and pathos.
In the first of the show's two one-act plays, Winners, Mag (Justine Salata) and Joe (Cameron Scoggins), respectively 17 and 17-and-a-half, spend some lively time studying at a spot overlooking their beloved Irish town, Ballymore, just three weeks before getting married.
Joe is trying to work on math, an obsession for him, while the less studious (and decidedly pregnant) Mag repeatedly opens and immediately closes one of the books she's brought along. She's far more intent on drawing Joe into conversation on any one of numerous topics she brings up about them and everyone they know.
She recoils when Joe, frustrated by her manipulations, declares she's trapped him into marriage, but later relents when he softens his outburst. When we last see them, they're in each other's arms; but soon after, a man (James Riordan) and a woman (Kati Brazda) alternate reading a straightforward account of the couples' disappearance on the day they went to their lookout and the subsequent discovery of their bodies sometime after they had stolen a boat and then mysteriously drowned.
Because they were in love when their young lives ended, the implication is that Mag and Joe are winners. It's a fair enough point, but the playwright is never quite persuasive that their ardor is more than adolescent infatuation. All the same, the piece is diverting under Drew Barr's direction, and as played by Salata, who enchantingly blends Meg's charm and tedium, and by Scoggins, who makes tense nerddom highly appealing.
Friel has no dramatic troubles whatsoever with the character of Losers: Andy (Riordan) and Hanna (Brazda). For one thing, he provides them a couple of impassioned lovemaking sessions which are just downstairs from where her bed-ridden, religious mother Mrs. Wilson (Nora Chester) is listening for silence – a hint that something she mightn't approve is transpiring.
Andy gets around that by loudly reciting Thomas Gray's classic poem, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"— a solution as funny as it sounds and made more so by Riordan and Brazda's frenzied tussling.
The old lady — visited by friend Cissy (Cynthia Darlow) for the daily 10 o'clock evening Rosary that Andy and Hanna must also attend — may be fooled by the ruse, but ultimately ensures that Andy's and Hanna's love doesn't survive and simultaneously upends the old "family that prays together stays together" homily.
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