by: Sandi Durell

The TACT theater company is celebrating its 20th Anniversary of reviving plays that haven’t been seen for a long time in New York. “Lovers” (Winners & Losers), at the Beckett Theatre, is one of Irish playwright Brian Friel’s both disturbing and amusing messages in these two one-act plays, set in Northern Ireland in the 1960s.

“Winners” revolves around two teenagers, pregnant Mag and studious Joe, and the lightheartedness of young 17 year olds as they meet outdoors to study for final exams, their marriage 3 weeks away. Mag, played by Justine Salata, is a scattered, exhuberant girl who doesn’t know the meaning of the word silence. While Joe, played by Cameron Scoggins) tries to keep his mind on his books, she talks endlessly, going from topic to topic, sometimes picking fights with Joe until he, too, goes off on a yakkety tangent of youthful joyousness, albeit becoming annoyed with her. They romp on the upper level of a two-level set, designed by Brett J. Banakis, high above the audience, making it somewhat uncomfortable for viewing (unless you’re sitting toward the back of the theater).

The lovers’ delight is marred by the fore-shadowing of things to come as two narrators sit below them and intermittently read (from a report) about the disaster yet to unfold, adding a depressive element as one watches Mag and Joe engage in the pleasures of a life they are planning. Salata is delicious as the teen chatterbox.

In “Losers,” Friel uses the same technique of flashback, already foretold at the opening scene by Andy (James Riordan), a 40+ man looking for romance, who uses hindsight to begin the play about what he should have done. He is courting 40+ Hanna (Kati Brazda) who comes with baggage; a bedridden shrewd mother (Nora Chester), always praying to her Saint, who will do anything to make sure her daughter isn’t carried away by some man, leaving her to tend to herself. The old traditions and religious beliefs portrayed also play a big role in how Hanna and Andy, comically, find their moments of love to outsmart this crafty old Mum, along with her meek companion Cissy (Cynthia Darlow).

Riordan is a real clever funnyman, probably carried over from his role in “Jerusalem,” recently on Broadway. Brazda plays the perfect uptight and eager middle-aged woman.

“Winners” becomes repetitious and could surely use some editing so that the story can be told in less than the 1 hr. 20 minutes.

Brian Friel is a remarkably good story-teller of disturbing tales, leaving much unsaid but well noted. If you have problems, like me, understanding that Irish brogue you won’t get every word spoken.

“Lovers” continues at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, West 42nd Street, through Oct. 20th.www.tactnyc.org

*Photo:Hunter Canning