Story: Two one-act plays bridged by a common theme and title, Lovers takes place in small-town Ireland in the mid-1960s. The first vignette, Winners, pertains to a pair of 17-year-olds, Joseph Michael Brennan and Margaret Mary Enright. Joe has gotten Maggie into the family way, which necessitates a hasty marriage at the end of the school year three weeks hence.

Joe meets Maggie at the top of a hill overlooking their town of Ballymore, ostensibly to prepare for their final exams. The studious Joe is exasperated with Maggie’s constant daydreaming and frequent interruptions of his studies, and their initial ardor at the outset seems to cool drastically as impatience and piques of irritation bubble to the surface. Through the observations of a man and a woman who form a Greek chorus, it becomes apparent that much more is happening here than the squabbles of a summer day.

In the second skit, Losers, middle-aged bachelor Andy Tracey is smitten with affection for a lady named Hanna Wilson. To his chagrin, Hanna lives with her mother and is still tied to the apron strings of the domineering elder, who rings a bell for service at annoyingly inopportune moments for the romantic pair.

When Andy learns that the prayerful Mrs. Wilson’s patron saint, Philomena, may not actually have been a saint at all, or even existed, he thinks that he’s found the key to getting the old woman’s goat and gaining elusive freedom for Hanna and him from their emotional dungeon. Perhaps, though, he should think again.

Highlights: Brian Friel is the quintessential Irish playwright of the 20th century, as evidenced by such lilting and affecting works as Dancing at Lughnasa and Molly Sweeney. Lovers, which was written in 1967, is very much a product of its era, set just before the cultural sea changes of the late ‘60s and ‘70s.

West End Players Guild offers a Valentine’s Day bouquet of wistful love and romance with its current rendition of Friel’s musings, both dramatic and comic, about Cupid on the Emerald Isle.

Other Info: By far the better of the two stories is the former. The second act, Losers, is little more than lightweight, meaningless fluff that is salvaged only by the saving grace of Colin Nichols as the hamstrung Andy. Taking time from his hobby of peering at nature in all its glory through his binoculars, Nichols in the guise of Andy fills us in on Andy’s plan to extract revenge on the busybody Mrs. Wilson.

Nichols has an easy way with Andy’s melodious dialect and handles the comic elements of this throwaway story pleasantly enough. Theresa Masters, Suzanne Greenwald and Liz Hopefl assist him as the fretful Hanna, oppressive Mrs. Wilson and daffy, innocuous neighbor Cissy Cassidy, respectively.

There’s much more to contemplate, thankfully, in the first-act story, Winners. While the presence of the black-clad Man (Steve Callahan) and Woman (Kristy Wehrle) seems irksome at first, their dry, reportorial style of the fateful meeting of young Joe and Maggie eventually takes on a pensive and sobering reflection about the youthful lovers.

Through the descriptions of the two teens about the relationships between their own mothers and fathers, as well as the strained feelings that erupt in each of them regarding their own situation, it becomes apparent that the reality of their circumstances will eventually crush any idyllic dreams.

Betsy Bowman and John Lampe delightfully capture the passions and hopes of the two youngsters, while also revealing the sad realities that may ultimately bring their ardor down to the survival level of their parents. When the Man and Woman make their final pronouncement about Joe and Maggie, it contrasts ironically with their romantic rendezvous.

Jessie Evans and Sean Belt provide mostly somber musical entertainment before the show and during intermission on button accordion and guitar, respectively.

Destiny Graham’s set design modestly conveys a hill above Ballymore in Winners and a two-tiered set for Mrs. Wilson’s abode in Losers offset by some greenery. Renee Sevier-Monsey’s costumes fit the times and the characters, Rebeca Davidson adds props, including a statue of St. Philomena, Marjorie Williamson provides scenic painting and Tony Anselmo furnishes lights.

Jan Meyer’s direction is gentle, albeit a bit stiff in the opening segment as the Man and Woman awkwardly begin their ruminations. It would have been nice, too, to see more life breathed into the unfulfilling second act.

For a look at an early work by one of Ireland’s premier modern playwrights, Lovers ranges from the poetic to the forgettable.

Play: Lovers

Company: West End Players Guild

Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Avenue

Dates: February 20, 21, 22, 23

Tickets: $20; contact or 367-0025

Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of John Lamb