Blind Parrot Productions

Near the end of the first act in Maria Irene Fornes’s Lovers and Keepers, the couple on the stage is watching television in content resignation.

“At first you were mean,” the woman tells the man, “then you were nice.”

“At first you were incredibly stupid,” he answers. “but then you got smarter and sweeter.”

These two may not always have liked each other, but they are each other’s mundane destiny; they are content to stay together because they’ve maneuvered through the mine fields to a safe place. But there’s a sad lining to their ordinary nest and a reservoir of dissatisfaction. While it was clearly the playwright’s intention to combine sweetness and sadness in this portrayal of love as redemption and of love among the common folk, the material is ultimately disappointing.

Lovers and Keepers is lovely work, but it’s a wisp of a play. It features three looks at love, with primary characters in one piece popping up as supporting characters in another. The true link is both the wonder and the banality of love. Unfortunately, Lovers and Keepers doesn’t fulfill its bittersweet promise. One leaves the theater touched, but not sure by what.

The strongest piece is the first, in which Kathleen, a plain jane, makes several attempts to leave Fred, a common joe. She always comes back, and with each return she wins a little territory–he stops being mean, mostly because it takes too much energy–and gives a little herself. She has an affair and an abortion, but eventually gives in to Fred’s notion of marriage. He struggles with his pride and jealousy, and finally accepts his love for her. Both Brian Shaw and Jane Brown showed uncommon sensitivity to the nuances of the relationship, giving the material a resonance it might not have had in other hands.

The weakest story lies in the middle. Tato (whose name not one of the actors pronounced correctly), Kathleen’s Puerto Rican lover, obsesses about his intellectual insecurities and his need for respect. Antonio Pulido, who played Tato, has a wonderful masculine vulnerability, but his effort wasn’t matched by either the script or the women playing opposite him.

The final story is a poignant peek at an elderly couple deep into dependence and accommodation. As Rose, Beka Calkins, who is young, stole the show–not by senior-stereotype mugging, but by combining the subtle physical frustrations and the small victories over the aging process that all old people must experience. One particular scene, when she sings to her husband about the wonders of chicken soup (by implication, a near aphrodisiac), serves as a terrific bookend to the angst-filled discourse on vegetables that Fred gives at the beginning of the trilogy. The soup business, however, is strikingly similar in tone to “Sopita de Pichon,” an old Cuban folk song with which Fornes is no doubt familiar.

In many ways, Lovers and Keepers is a signature Fornes script. The characters posture as Everyman and Everywoman. They are not particularly articulate–often, in fact, they are monosyllabic–but they still manage, through Fornes’s minimalism, to express some fundamentally universal concerns. The humor is wry and multilayered, and the scene changes come quickly. In this particular production, the use of space was both imaginative and playful, making the most of Blind Parrot’s deep, narrow performance area.

But Lovers and Keepers feels unfinished, like an early work that Fornes only recently pulled out of the drawer. It raises the issues of tolerance, domesticity, passion, fidelity, and intelligence, yet it doesn’t follow through. As a musical, Lovers and Keepers doesn’t have one song that stays with you after the show, an amazing feat considering the composer is Tito Puente, one of Latin music’s most innovative writers. The songs themselves seem like leftovers, and their introduction during the play is always a little embarrassing. Also, the only performer with a real voice was Tria Smith, who played the good-hearted, lovelorn waitress. There’s much good here, but unfortunately, there’s not enough.