As he has proven many times in the past, Israel Horovitz can write much better plays than “Fighting Over Beverley.” Put simply, it doesn’t ring true. And it suffers badly from a Vera Lynn complex.
This latest in Horovitz’s cycle of Gloucester plays, which includes “North Shore Fish” and “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard,” revolves around a British World War II bride who jilted her English fiance to marry a Yank from Gloucester. Nearly a half-century later her former fiance, who has remained single and faithful to her, arrives in Gloucester with the announced purpose of taking her back to Blighty with him. By now she and the two men in her life are pushing 70. The play’s fourth character is the married couple’s 40-ish daughter, an L.A. talent agent deeply into psychoanalysis who suddenly arrives home after leaving her third husband.
In “North Shore Fish,” Horovitz evinces a deep rapport with and belief in his Gloucester characters and their lives. In “Fighting Over Beverley” he seems a virtual stranger to them, constantly falling back on Brit vs. Yank cliches and raising far more questions about the behavior of the four than are ever answered. The play demands, for example, a believable explanation of why the ex-fiance waited for nearly 50 years before reclaiming his lost love.
Then there’s Vera Lynn. When in doubt, which is most of the time, the play and production fall back on endless replays of recordings of the popular WWII British singer, or sing-alongs of her songs by the cast, with the central character at a parlor electric organ. By the end of the play it’s possible to never, ever want to hear “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” and “We’ll Meet Again” again.
In a much better production, “Fighting Over Beverley” might seem less rickety. But at Horovitz’s Gloucester Stage Company it’s statically directed and staged (the title fight between the two men is hopelessly executed) and inadequately acted. Frankly, it’s a play that, without an actress with the incandescence of a Peggy Ashcroft or a Celia Johnson in its central role, shouldn’t even be attempted.
Certainly the play needs rethinking by Horovitz if it’s to have an afterlife. All four characters need more dimension and the plot needs bolstering and verification. And does the daughter have to be written, directed and played in such an unrelievedly aggressive and unsympathetic manner? Even the play’s central theme, which appears to be the belief that a large percentage of the human race leads unhappy, unfulfilled, lonely lives, is never illuminated beyond its cliched starting point.
It’s now up to Horovitz to decide whether to spend time reworking “Fighting Over Beverley” or to write it off as unsuccessful and move on to his next play.