Lovers: Part 1–Winners, Dreadnaught Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre. First performed in Dublin in 1967, Brian Friel’s Winners is meant to be the first half of a two-part evening. The second half–Losers, about an unhappily married middle-aged couple–acts as a reminder of what the two happy high school sweethearts in the first play might encounter in 20 years. Still, Winners faces head-on youthful illusions and the harsh realities that dash them and is a satisfying play in its own right.
The economy of a one-act– this one lasts a little less than an hour–emphasizes what’s best in Friel’s work: his graceful dialogue and character development. As we gradually learn about these young people’s lives–his dreams of a university education, her pregnancy and banishment from high school, their belief that love alone is enough–it’s hard not to worry what the future will hold for these two kind, foolish, sweet souls.
John Gawlik directs this debut production with a perfect blend of naturalism and romance–at first we get a slightly sweetened view of adolescent infatuation, then lose our illusions when the protagonists do. And his lead actors, Jennifer Gawlik and Chris Landis, have the chemistry to be convincing as young lovers: you can tell they care a great deal about each other but can also see, in their moments of silence or sudden small cruelties, that they feel vaguely trapped, though they dare not admit it even to themselves.