Saturday, February 22, 2014

LOVERS • West End Players Guild

Brian Friel's 1967 play takes a look at the prospects of love with two different couples. There's one young couple anticipating their future, and one older couple, navigating the realities of theirs.

After being greeted by jaunty Irish tunes courtesy of Jessie Evans on the accordion and Sean Belt on the guitar, things kick off with the first act, titled "Winners", featuring two teenagers preparing for their final exams. Mag (Betsy Bowman) and her boyfriend, Joe (John Lampe), aren't able to return to their school because of Mag's unplanned pregnancy. Joe has just secured their new home, overlooking the neighborhood slaughterhouse, so while Mag chatters on about her passionately fancied future with Joe, (and about a million other things), the bookish, academic Joe tries to settle into his studies so he can better his chances of providing a reasonable living for his new family.

John Lampe (Joe) and Betsy Bowman (Mag).
Photo credit: John Lamb
At intervals, their day on the hilltop that overlooks the town of Ballymore is interrupted when the lights come up on two narrators named "Man" (Steve Callahan) and "Woman" (Kristy Wehrle). They matter-of-factly read from scripts that provide a little backstory about the respective households of these youngsters, and the events of the couple's future -- engaging, and sobering.

The second act, titled "Losers", introduces Andy (Colin Nichols) and Hanna (Theresa Masters). Andy, who opens the act telling us what he "should have done", is daydreaming through a pair of binoculars in the backyard -- a pastime he's become fond of lately. Andy and Hanna found each other later in life, but they've always had Hanna's bedridden mother Mrs. Wilson (Suzanne Greenwald) and her friend Cissy (Liz Hopefl) to contend with. Courtship proves a challenge when there's constant bell-ringing coming from upstairs, along with regular "mini masses" for praying to Saint Philomena to attend. While this act is not without its own gravity, it provides some much needed levity, in spite of the gray cloud that's displayed on the set -- opposed to the first act's bright sun.

Theresa Masters (Hanna Wilson-Tracey)
and Colin Nichols (Andy Tracey).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Both acts threaten to go overlong at times, but under Jan Meyer's proficient direction, the cast and creatives provide an engaging evening of Irish melancholy. Bowman is saddled with the toughest challenge, but she pulls off Mag's almost nonstop prattling with endearing assurance. Lampe's Joe is more subdued, naturally. I mean, he can barely get a word in! But his boyish enthusiasm is charming and plays nicely off of Mag, with Callahan and Wehrle serving as trustworthy narrators. Nichols and Masters as Andy and Hanna convince as they struggle to court each other despite the demands from the bell. Greenwald, the ringer of that bell, along with Hopefl as her partner in prayer, give humorously authentic performances as Mrs. Wilson and Cissy. Destiny Graham's set includes the modest hilltop for the first act, and the living area and the upstairs bedroom for the second, all complemented by Renee Sevier-Monsey's costumes, Rebeca Davidson's props and Tony Anselmo's lighting design.

Theresa Masters (Hanna Wilson-Tracey),
Suzanne Greenwald (Mrs. Wilson), Liz Hopefl (Cissy Cassidy)
and Colin Nichols (Andy Tracey).
Photo credit: John Lamb
It wouldn't be fair to give too many plot details for either act, but while the play itself is a little uneven, it includes its share of bright spots with solid performances throughout. Plus, I love hearing an Irish brogue. It's only up till this weekend. 


Written by Brian Friel
Directed by Jan Meyer
Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
through February 23 | tickets: $20
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

John Lampe (Joe) and Betsy Bowman (Mag).
Photo credit: John Lamb
John Lampe (Joe), Betsy Bowman (Mag),  Steve Callahan (Man), Kristy Wehrle (Woman), Colin Nichols (Andy Tracey), Theresa Masters (Hanna Wilson-Tracey), Suzanne Greenwald (Mrs. Wilson) and Liz Hopefl (Cissy Cassidy).

Scenic design by Destiny Graham; lighting design by Tony Anselmo; costume design by Renee Sevier-Monsey; props design by Rebeca Davidson; stage manager, Danny Austin.

Button accordion, Jessie Evans; guitar, Sean Belt.

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