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Monday, 17 February 2014 17:20

Winners? Losers?

Written by Bob Wilcox
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The Details

L-R: Betsy Bowman and John Lampe
L-R: Betsy Bowman and John Lampe westendplayers.org / John Lamb

Playwright Brian Friel, best known for "Dancing at Lughnasa," wrote "Lovers" fairly early in his career. It's now being produced by West End Players Guild under Jan Meyer's sure-handed direction.

Two one-acts make up the whole of "Lovers." The first is called "Winners" and the second "Losers." When "Winners" ends, you may wonder why Friel has given it that title. I would be happy had Friel not tacked on an ending that seems to me unnecessarily cynical or ironic or maybe just too clever by half.

That ending is relayed to us by two narrators who have been setting the scene, a hillside overlooking a town in Northern Ireland on a sunny June day, and who tell us what the future holds for the two young people on the hill. Kristy Wehrle and Steve Callahan deliver the narration with fine rich brogues.

Betsy Bowman, delightful as always, and John Lampe, also a charmer, play the two young people. They're about to graduate from high school and then get married because they love each other and because she's pregnant. They're supposed to be studying for their finals, and they do, a little. She's irrepressible, full of childish enthusiasms. When she finally runs down, he gets a chance to talk about his hopes and dreams. They fight and make up and obviously belong together. Much of what they say captures the anticipations and the fears of youth in language that's a pleasure to hear, especially as delivered by Bowman and Lampe. But eventually it does all get to be a little too much and too long.

The lovers in "Losers," unlike the young winners, are undoubtedly losers. They're middle aged, long-time lovers but only recently married after her father died. Now they're saddled with her mother, who has taken to her bed with a convenient malaise, where she conducts an almost endless round of Catholic rituals. This is not the happy married life  that Andy Tracey had anticipated, and he has retreated to the solitude of his wife's family's back yard with his binoculars to watch the birds and to tell us his sad story. Colin Nichols makes Andy a gracious host to us and a fine teller of his tale. Theresa Masters plays Andy's love, so eager when they were courting, so otherwise engaged now that they are married. Suzanne Greenwald rules from the mother-in-law's bed, assisted by Liz Hopefl as the neighbor who joins her in her devotions.  Friel layers on more irony here, and gentle regrets for the pity of it all.

Destiny Graham's design makes smart use of a few set pieces completed by Marjorie Williamson's painting, with lights by Tony Anselmo, costumes by Renee Sevier-Monsey and tunes from the auld sod played by Jessie Evans on the button accordion and Sean Belt on guitar. It all captures quite well that merry Irish gloom, that cheerful despair, that Friel layers on just a bit too much for my taste.

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