note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
If you missed seeing Israel Horovitz’s romantic comedy, “Fighting Over Beverley,” the love triangle among three septuagenarians, you missed a masterpiece performance at the Gloucester Stage Company. The play ended Sunday, Sept. 11.
The prolific, witty, yet profound playwright has re-envisioned his delightful play, which premiered in Gloucester in 1993 and rightfully won international acclaim as part of his popular series of plays, set on the North Shore.
Last Friday night, Horovitz sat unnoticed in the audience,smiling throughout the two-hour, two-act play. And why not? Multi-award-winning, versatile stage, screen and TV London-based star, Sandra Shipley, is magnificent as Beverley Shimma, a 70-year-old WW II war bride who left her home in England 52 years ago and married Gloucester war hero-fisherman, Zelly Shimma. Veteran stage, screen and TV star Paul O’Brien as her big, blustery husband is also outstanding in every scene, as he resentfully faces Beverley’s former British suitor, Archie Bennett, who has come to reclaim her and take her back to England with him. Both were fliers who fought in the same skirmish over England - Beverley, in fact - in 1944.
Because Zelly was a brave, wounded Yank who lost his leg, Beverley’s father hero-worshipped him and was pleased when he swept her off her feet and away, across the pond.
But Archie, (who at times for some reason or other is called Arthur), never forgot his true love, and wants her back.
“It’s time. True love never dies. You had her for 52 years; I want her now, “ Archie declares to Zelly. He earlier tells Beverley how he waited at a train station for her, with a ring in his hand, hoping to propose to her, but she jilted him. All these years, he loved her, never giving up hope. He never married. He worked hard, invested wisely, and now has much to offer her, he says.
The play’s nostalgic setting is punctuated by sound designer David Wilson’s poignant songs from the past that capture the moment, such as “When I Grow Too Old Too Dream,” and “Yours;” and Jenna McFarland Lord’s handsome set is the ideal modest Gloucester home, decorated with Beverley’s feminine touches and china tea set.
Although the premise sounds implausible and comical - whoever heard of romance rekindled among 70-year-olds- the play becomes increasingly complicated, delving into people’s psyches, their pasts and private lives.
Horovitz’s dialogue is witty, pithy, down-to-earth, realistic. Beverley gave up her own goals, settling into a complacent wife and mother, despite problems with her marriage, which she dismisses. She’s aware it has troubled her thrice-married, independent daughter, Cecily, a successful theatrical agent who lives in Los Angeles with her playwright husband and his 10-year-old son.
Cecily has her own problems. Suspecting her husband is cheating on her, she left to come home and think things over, unaware her mother’s former suitor has also arrived there.
Accomplished actor-teacher-writer-director Paddy Swanson as Beverley’s longtime, colorless British suitor Archie, is a delightful foil to O’Brien, and Denise Cormier as Cecily also shines.
Because the ending is unexpected, I won’t reveal much here, in hopes “Fighting Over Beverley” will return soon. Horovitz’s premise is charming - that it’s never too late for love and romance; that the elderly are young-at-heart, full of hope, and ready to tackle new adventures.