The past comes calling in ‘Fighting Over Beverley’
GLOUCESTER - “Fighting Over Beverley’’ traces an odd romance, one full of sweet promises and longing, compounded by disappointment and regret. At its heart though, is Beverley, a woman who, in the hands of the incomparable Sandra Shipley, transforms from a passive wife into an active, independent woman.
Playwright Israel Horovitz, whose play debuted at Gloucester Stage Company almost 20 years ago, has tweaked the script for this revival, but the story remains constant, if ultimately unsatisfying. We meet Beverley Shimma (Shipley) in her Gloucester home in 1997, where she has an unexpected guest, Archie Bennett (Paddy Swanson), who was her fiance in England before she ran off with the Yank, Zelly Shimma (Paul O’Brien), near the end of World War II. Archie has come, not for a nostalgic visit, but to take Beverley home to England with him as his wife. “He’s had you for 52 years,’’ Archie tells Beverley. “Enough is enough.’’
Beverley admits that at 17, she was thrilled by Archie’s proposal, “but not thrilled by you.’’ Yet she can’t help but be tempted by his passion for her decades later and his confession that she was his inspiration while many of his colleagues died of hopelessness. In the midst of his declarations of love, Beverley’s husband, Zelly, a bit of a blowhard, walks in to compete with Archie for Beverley’s affections.
Watching two 70-year-old rivals engage in a bit of macho posturing might be comical if Swanson and O’Brien weren’t so compelling. Swanson, as the would-be suitor, is a bit of a boor, insulting nearly everyone he encounters, slipping into an irritating nasal whine whenever he decides to be particularly cutting. O’Brien, as the wounded war hero, is a braggart and a bully, but he manages to suggest enough vulnerability to keep our interest.
The woman they’re fighting over is more complex, and Shipley reveals her character in wordless reactions even more than in Horovitz’s dialogue. When Zelly recounts his daring war deeds, she lovingly puts her hand on his shoulder. When Archie offers her a comfortable way of life and his undying dedication, she’s clearly flattered and more than a little tempted. But when Cecily (Denise Cormier), Zelly and Beverley’s 40-something daughter, arrives seeking refuge with her parents after leaving her third husband in Los Angeles, Beverley seems to wake up to the price her daughter has paid for Beverley’s choices.
Horovitz places some deliciously imperfect characters in an interesting situation, but revelations that might be shocking are set up too completely, and the dramatic tension never achieves the level the story needs. Ultimately, Horovitz goes for an ending that is somehow both predictable and anticlimactic. Taking his cue from Henrik Ibsen, Horovitz has Beverley follow Nora’s footsteps in “A Doll’s House,’’ walking out on everyone to make it on her own.
Director Robert Walsh keeps a tight rein on the action, encouraging his actors to explore the characters through body language, but Horovitz’s script never plumbs the depth these actors deserve.
Terry Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.