It’s 1966 in rural Ireland. Birth control is illegal and the Catholic Church is omnipresent.
This is the world in which Brian Friel’s “Lovers, Part 1” is steeped. The heartbreaking and funny play is getting a compelling and moving staging at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.
Maggie (Bryn Booth) and Joe (Adam Denoyer) are 17 and in love. She is pregnant. They have both been expelled from their schools because of the shame they have brought on themselves and their families. But they will be allowed to take their final exams.
The young lovers meet on a hill overlooking the town with plans to study. Well, Joe plans to study; Maggie is not too keen on hitting the books.
As we see the anguish and giddiness and hope and fear the two go through, a man and a woman (Claire Hancock and Christopher Pankratz) sit to the side near the front of the stage. They tell us what is in store for the two teens in a cold, dispassionate manner. We know quickly into the play that Maggie and Joe will meet their demise before their day ends.
“Lovers” doesn’t have much of a plot. When you write like Friel, and have such strong actors delivering his poetry, you don’t need plot.
What it does do is allow us into the lives of the teens, and to feel all the energy and earnestness and confusion that comes with being 17. As well as the oppressiveness of a country that is practically ruled by the Catholic Church.
Joe and Maggie are to be married in three weeks time. While Joe is immersed in his books studying, Maggie, who has an aversion to silence, spins elaborate stories. And talks of her fears. And of her love for him. “When I look at Papa and Mother, and Mr. and Mrs. O’Hara, and all the other parents I think none of them knows what being in love really is,” she says. “And that’s why I think we’re different. At this moment here — now — I’m crazy about you — and mad and reckless, so that I want to shout it to the whole town.”
For the most part, Joe doesn’t hear — his focus is on his books — which may make Maggie feel safe about making herself so vulnerable.
When Maggie takes a nap, it’s Joe’s turn to talk to her, baring his soul, as well.
“Mag, I’m not half good enough for you,” he says to the sleeping Maggie. “I’m jealous and mean and spiteful and cruel. But I’ll try to be tender to you and good to you; and that won’t be hard because even when I’m not with you — just when I think of you — I go all sort of silly and I say to myself over and over again: I’m crazy about Maggie Enright.”
Several times, attention goes to our Greek chorus of two as they tell us about the teens and their families, the search for their bodies, the results of the inquest.
Which makes Maggie’s words before they leave the stage to go on an adventure all the more painful: “The past’s over,” she says with exuberance. “And I hate this waiting time! I want the future to happen. I want to be in it — I want to be in it with you!”
Friel’s play is actually in two parts, the first, the one on stage at Scoundrel & Scamp, is “Winners.” The second, “Losers,” is about the empty love of a married couple.
Of course the young teens who die are the winners — their lives ended when they were full of hope and love.
Holly Griffith, in her directorial debut, shows a deep understanding of Friel’s work and the Irish world his characters inhabit. The production was spellbinding.
The players, too, embraced the piece. Booth’s Maggie had boundless energy, and Denoyer was perfectly awkward. The dialogue felt completely organic in their hands. This is a wordy play, but they allowed the language to flow. Hancock and Pankratz were emotionless, almost still — perfect for the narration roles. All of them spoke with a sumptuous brogue that never wavered; that is quite impressive.
“Lovers” ends Scoundrel & Scamp’s first season. And it ends it with a bang. See this, if you can.