NEW AND IMPROVED A daring mix of emotional yearning and farce enliven Israel Horovitz’s revived — and revised — Fighting Over Beverley.
What if Nora Helmer had waited until she turned 70 to slam that door heard 'round the world? For one thing, Israel Horovitz, rather than Ibsen, might have popped out from behind the portal to tell her story. In his revised 1993 play Fighting Over Beverley, which is being revived at Gloucester Stage (through September 11), the title character is a one-time British war bride repressing her marital unhappiness in a doll's house straight out of Horovitz's North Shore Fish. She has been married to war hero turned seafood purveyor Zelly Shimma since the former fighter pilot swept her off her feet as bombs fell over Yorkshire. He brought her home to Gloucester, where she is a fish out of water. Now Archie Bennett, the RAF pilot Beverley jilted for Zelly, has paddled across the pond to re-stake his claim. "You've had her for 52 years," he tells Zelly. "I want the rest."
"A plague o' both your houses," is probably the only reasonable answer to Beverley's unlikely dilemma, into which Horovitz mixes absurdity and anguish in equal measure (as does a fine cast under Robert Walsh's crackling direction). The dramatist has certainly improved his handiwork since last I saw it in 1999, shaving off both verbiage and sentimentality — though not the considerable drollery derived from the gaps between British and American English usage. He has also set the play at a particular crossroad, 1997, when Tony Blair and his Labor government were in their infancy. (The reactionary Archie, by contrast, has accumulated a comfortable nest egg by buying British stocks endorsed by Margaret Thatcher!)
I sometimes wonder if the prolific Horovitz did himself any favors during the 30 years he helmed Gloucester Stage and premiered one after another of his plays there. The profusion just called attention to their similarities. Seeing the new and improved Beverley after a period of abstinence from the oeuvre, I better appreciated its charms, not the least of which is a daring mix of emotional yearning and farce. It's a combination that, in the wrong hands, might prove ludicrous. But here, when the romantic and territorial conflicts heat up in the second act — culminating in a fight that's more of a pugilistic embrace — the mix of geriatric Feydeau and bitter acknowledgement of life's disappointments is disarming.
The play is not without psychological cliché, particularly in the person of Zelly and Beverley's adult daughter, a successful Hollywood agent fleeing her third marriage but seeming to have no plausible root in this no-man's-land of tea cozies and Gloucester dirt. Her complaint is that growing up amid the secrets and lies of her parents' mismatched marriage has made her unfit for any of her own. But her stronger purpose is to serve as our stand-in, not knowing whether to laugh or cry at the spectacle of old men warring over a lonely woman for whom all has been downhill since the thrill of sexual power she experienced at 17, when two camps of flyboys fought for her favors.
, Paul O'Brien, Sandra Shipley, Gloucester Stage, More