By JON KAPLAN
Brian Friel is one of Ireland's best playwrights; most his works are filled with humanity and a strong sense of emotional truth.
The one-act Winners isn't in the same category as plays like Faith Healer and Dancing At Lughnasa, but Cart/House Theatre's production taps the work for some of its theatricality.
Its central characters are teens Mag and Joe, scheduled to be wed in three weeks. They're on a pleasant Northern Irish hillside in 1966, supposedly studying for their exams. More often, though, they look happily and hopefully to the years to come and reminisce about their families.
But two other figures, called simply Man and Woman, read their futures to us, ominous yet cut-and-dried narration -- including weather reports and other mundane things -- that shows the young couple's optimism is not to be fulfilled. The piece has two time frames which grow farther apart as the play goes on.
Friel's suggestion is that their lives wouldn't have been so great is a minor note in this production, and the story works best as a series of moments between Mag and Joe. She's the romantic rebel, he's focused and studious, with the dream of being a math teacher; she can't stop talking, he concentrates on his books.
It's their talk about their parents that colour their lives and give a touch of coldness to their plans, but the production, directed by Ian Watson, doesn't go far enough in suggesting what might have been the tragic future lives of the teens. It's the show's last 10 minutes, in which we're reminded of the continuity of life, that resonate best.
Sarah Dodd and Shawn Campbell play the omniscient narrators, literally on the side of the action, with the clinical detachment the parts require. Alexis Taylor gives Mag some warmth, but her Irish accent comes and goes and she's not always emotionally rooted in this exuberant character.
Best of all is Matthew Gorman's engaging Joe, who has a knack for impersonations and the ability to shift from serious to lighthearted in a beat. He understands Joe from the inside, and, sharing that with us, gives the show its heart.