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Paulanne Simmons

“Lovers” Is Not Quite Revived

Directed by Drew Barr
TACT/The Actors Company
Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre
410 West 42 Street
Tues. thru Thurs. at 7:30pm, Fri. & Sat. at 8p, Sat. & Sun. matinees at 2pm, special 2pm performance Oct. 17
Tickets: $20-$58 (212) 239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
Closes Oct. 20, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Sept. 23, 2012

Kati Brazda and James Riordan as the "Losers" couple. Photo: Hunter Canning Photography.

Brian Friel’s “Lovers,” first produced in 1967, is composed of two separate one-acts, “Winners” and “Loser,” which work together to present very different but complementary views of love. Yet the two pieces have been separated over time, frequently performed as solo one-acts or in combination with short plays by other authors. TACT’s revival of the play this season reveals why.

“Lovers” is well directed by Drew Barr and features a very effective two-tiered set by Bret J. Banakis. The casts of both plays are consistently fine, with Justine Salata a standout as Meg, the young girl in “Winners.” But both “Winners” and “Losers” seem more like overly long scenes from a larger play than complete dramas. When presented together, they can drag on for over two hours.

Joe (Cameron Scoggins) and Meg (Justine Salata), the young lovers in "Winners," during an afternoon on the hill. Photo: Hunter Canning Photography.

Meg and Joe (Cameron Scoggins), the young lovers in “Winners,” are filled with hope, even though Meg is pregnant, they have to get married and both of them are disgraced and have been asked to leave their schools. During their afternoon on the hill (on the upper section of the stage) Meg especially is filled with dreams, often to the great annoyance of Joe, who only wants to study for his upcoming exams, which he has been permitted to take through his mother’s intervention.

But down below, the Man (James Riordan) and Woman (Kati Brazda) discuss the news of the couple’s disappearance, and it soon becomes obvious that this is their last afternoon together. As the couple argues and makes up repeatedly, revealing all the cracks in their relationship, the audience has only one thing to look forward to: the revelation of exactly what happened to them. Even this proves to be vague and unsatisfactory.

“Losers” is not much different. The story is told through the eyes of Andy (Riordan), who has loved and lost Hanna (Brazda), a woman who cannot escape from the grip of her mother, a hypocrite and hypochondriac. Mrs. Wilson (Nora Chester) reigns over Hanna, Andy and her neighbor Cissy (Cynthia Darlow) from under the covers of her bed, with the help of her beloved Saint Philomena.

Andy’s story is one of defeat. There are some very funny scenes in “Losers,” especially when Andy and Hanna attempt to make love while loudly reciting poetry to fool Mrs. Wilson. But there are no surprises.

What’s more, the set doesn’t work quite so well for this play because the actors keep saying they are going upstairs to visit Mrs. Wilson when clearly they are going downstairs. Why upstairs and downstairs were not switched to be in line with the dialogue is anyone’s guess.

Brian Friel certainly has a gift for dialogue. Like the work of so many Irish playwrights, “Lovers” is filled with great poetry, gentle humor and a deep understanding of the human condition. But even this excellent cast cannot keep these scenes from wandering aimlessly.

Nevertheless, thanks to the hardworking cast, there are times in both “Winners” and “Losers” when you may burst into tears or break out in laughter. But in between those times you may well be just waiting for the end.

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