Off-Broadway Theater Review: LOVERS (The Beckett Theatre)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on September 25, 2012

in Theater-New York

HOW LOVE DIES: TWO VERSIONS

Brian Friel’s excellent 1968 play Lovers is actually two separate plays with similar themes and settings. Both take place in a small town in Ireland in the mid 1960’s and both deal with how the hard, petty realities of life trample love—and the excitement, sentiment and hope that come with it. A brilliant new production by The Actors Company Theater, flawlessly directed by Drew Barr, elegantly captures the humor and tragedy of the piece, creating a world on the stage that is at once real and theatrical, time-place specific and transcendent.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of TACT's LOVERS at the Beckett NYCAt rise, sporting a white shirt and Catholic-school skirt, teenager Mag (Justine Salata) hangs out for a bit in her bedroom, doing not much at all. Finally she stands on her bed, puts her palms on the wall above her, and wiggles up to the upper part of the stage. The riveting way she does this (and the fact that she does it) tells us a great deal about her; we see, for one thing, that she’s a girl in transition, in the process of transforming from spunky schoolgirl into a nubile young woman.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of TACT's LOVERS at the Beckett NYCNow up on the hill overlooking her town, Mag is joined by her boyfriend Joe (Cameron Scoggins). School has just ended and they’re up here to study for their final exams. They’re in love and are soon to be married. Mag is hopeful, excited and imaginative. In no mood to sit about and read, she can’t seem to stop talking and bothering Joe, a serious, studious, young man with a pragmatic eye towards the future, and ambitions of becoming a teacher. With seemingly effortless precision Mr. Friel’s writing captures not only who Mag and Joe are now but what life will make of them in the next twenty years. The ecstatic moment in their lives which we are witnessing is funny, lovely and tragic, for we sense that—as wonderful as the two might be now—they are not remarkable enough to transcend the realities of what the future has in store. Underscoring the destiny of this young couple are a middle-aged man (James Riordan) and woman (Kati Brazda), dressed in dark, conservative attire, who sit on chairs on the lower stage, as if in the netherworld, periodically reading narration from books with black covers that look like some sort of ominous ledgers.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of TACT's LOVERS at the Beckett NYCMs. Salata and Mr. Scoggins are both delightful, delivering energized, multi-layered performances, and hitting every note with masterful precision (their level of sophistication as actors calls to mind the young players in Bergman films). Mr. Barr’s direction yields poetic results with its inspired simplicity: It’s a wonderment that a young couple’s exit from the stage manages to be startlingly effective.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of TACT's LOVERS at the Beckett NYCThe second part of Lovers tells of a couple in their September years, Andy and Hanna (also played by Mr. Riordan and Ms. Brazda, both offering very sympathetic and entertaining portrayals), whose attempts at intimacy are continually thwarted by Hanna’s bedridden mother, Mrs. Wilson (the disturbingly real Nora Chester), a manipulative, selfish, passive aggressive, ultra-Catholic. Cynthia Darlow rounds out the cast as Cissy, Mrs. Wilson’s friend and neighbor, playing her perfectly as a submissive nuisance.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of TACT's LOVERS at the Beckett NYCThe performance space is divided into two levels by a seven-foot-wall, which cuts the entire stage at a diagonal, creating a space in the shape of a scalene triangle, with a tunnel-like corridor burrowing from the obtuse angle in towards the rear of the stage. This area is dark and relatively small (about a fourth of the entire performance space), with a bed, a nightstand, a lamp, and some chairs. The upper level is light and airy, white, with a silhouette of a big old tree painted on the rear wall. Brett J. Banakis’ deceptively simple yet very dynamic set design—with its angles, levels, and the corridor—creates anxiety and excitement before the show even starts (the costumes and lighting are by Kim Krumm Sorenson and Mary Louise Geiger, respectively).

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of TACT's LOVERS at the Beckett NYCThe comically sad way in which everything turns out in this play seems almost inevitable, as if Andy and Hanna were destined to be miserable; they long to leave the unhappiness of their lives but their spiritual makeup prevents them from doing so. This is one of the many sublime elements in Friel’s writing, one which makes his story transcendent. It’s as if the two of them are relieved in a way to be constricted by circumstances, for one gets the sense that if these ever changed or “improved,” Hanna and Andy wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.

photos © Hunter Canning Photography

Lovers
The Actors Company Theater (TACT) at The Beckett Theater
scheduled to end on October 20, 2012
for tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit The Beckett

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