This weekend, Harlequin Productions opens its sixth annual collaboration with internationally known playwright Israel Horovitz.
The play, “Fighting Over Beverley,” is a romantic comedy – perhaps not quite what Olympia audiences have come to expect from the Obie- and Emmy-winning playwright, whose work tends to be dark, often including unlikeable characters and extreme circumstances.
As South Sound theater critic Alec Clayton put it in a blog post about Harlequin’s 2012 production of Horovitz’s “My Old Lady,” “It’s classic Horovitz all the way, which means comedy that lulls you into relaxing into an expectation of a laugh fest before slamming you with gut-wrenching drama and then once he’s got you writhing in your seat in agony, easing back into comic relief.”
“Fighting Over Beverley,” director Scot Whitney said, is “a lovely, lovely play. It’s still Israel, but it’s much sweeter than some of his plays.” He laughed at the very idea of calling a Horovitz play sweet.
“It’s just really delightful. The whole concept is just great.”
The play is a love triangle among senior citizens. Beverley is an Englishwoman who fell in love with an American pilot during World War II and moved to Gloucester, Mass., to make a life with him. More than a half-century later, her former fiance, Archie — the man she jilted to marry then-pilot, now-fisherman Zelly — shows up for an unexpected visit.
That situation opens opportunities for Beverley, who’s long thought herself stuck, said Karen Nelsen of Hailey, Idaho, who plays the title role.
“She believes she’s in that town and in that marriage for the rest of her life,” Nelsen said. “This is a catharsis for her.”
Nelsen is not new to Horovitz’s work: She also starred in “My Old Lady,” and Whitney knew immediately that he wanted her for the role of Beverley.
He cast Harlequin regulars David Wright and Dennis Rolly, respectively, as Zelly and Archie, and Ann Flannigan (“Last Schwartz,” “End Days”) as Cecily, the daughter of Zelly and Beverley who turns up for an unexpected visit.
“I didn’t have any auditions even,” the director said.
Like Whitney — and like many people in the Harlequin audience — Nelsen is a big fan of Horovitz’s plays.
“They’re so wonderfully quirky,” she said. “He’s not afraid of creating these situations that are a little absurd but actually grounded in a certain amount of reality.
“And he lets people react badly. He’s fun that way. He creates that sense of danger: Who knows what somebody might say or do?”
Whitney has his own surprise for those who have gotten used to getting a dose of Horovitz each season: Harlequin’s 2015 lineup doesn’t include any of the playwright’s work.
“Tradition is wonderful, but it just didn’t happen this year,” he said.
Something else that won’t happen this year is a visit from Horovitz, who has typically come to Olympia during the run of the show and spoken with the audience after at least one performance.
This year he’s been busy searching for a distributor for the film of “My Old Lady,” which he directed in addition to writing. (The film, which stars Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline, will be distributed by Cohen Media Group, and will be coming out in September.)
“He’s written a number of screenplays, but this is his first time directing,” Whitney said. “I can hardly wait to see it.”
Fighting Over Beverley
What: Harlequin Productions presents a romantic comedy about three septuagenarians.
When: 8 p.m. May 2, and Saturday, plus May 7-10, 15-17 and 22-24; matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday plus May 11 and 17
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $31 for adults, $28 for military and seniors, $20 for students and those younger than 25. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain. For the May 7 performance, pay what you can.
More information: 360-786-0151 or harlequinproductions.org