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Theater review: "Fighting Over Beverley" at Harlequin Productions

Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?

Dennis Rolly and Karen Nelsen are top notch in Harlequin productions' "Fighting Over Beverley." Photo credit: Scot Whitney

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You may have noticed we theater critics often spend much of our allotted word count telling you the story of a play. To be honest, we sometimes do this to get out of writing mean things about hapless actors or directors. Other times, we can't think of much to say at all. Of course, there are shows in which the plot is all-important, or maybe there's something about the plot we feel might attract you to a worthy production. Then there are those reviews in which I, for one, would rather tell you bupkes about the plot, because you deserve a spoiler-free enjoyment of the tale.

Harlequin's production of Israel Horovitz's Fighting Over Beverley is one of those latter occasions. It costars one of my favorite local actors, David Wright, in yet another role for which he gets to growl around the stage and show off a convincing accent and physical infirmity. I'm not complaining - far from it! I'd pay good money to watch David Wright pick his nose for two hours. I'm also on record admiring the work of Ann Flannigan (End Days, The Last Schwartz) and Dennis Rolly (The Seafarer), two veteran performers deep in their wheelhouses here. Yet in this show at least, all three are shown up by Karen Nelsen, a talented actor I felt was miscast in director Scot Whitney's production of Horovitz's My Old Lady (as a 94-year-old, because she so wasn't). No such quibble this time around: Nelsen mesmerizes with a master class in character arc, plausibility, and emotional precision. I could happily recommend this show for her performance alone, though there's plenty more romance and enjoyment to be had.

Rolly's Northern English accent is a bit dodgy here, leaping counties in seven-league boots, but he does convey the full comic breadth of an ardently amorous character. Wright has a knack for making even an amoral character feel like someone you'd be happy to front a lobster roll and a beer. Is that the right acting choice? In this show, yes. Fighting Over Beverley is, after all, a comedy, in spite of all its second-act emotional haymakers.

Speaking of haymakers, Robert Macdougall's fight choreography was executed haphazardly opening night, and Whitney lays musical underscoring on a bit thick during those fisticuffs and Nelsen's denouement. That said, Whitney cast the show beautifully and keeps it in tone. He has years of experience with Horovitz's oeuvre and cadence and it shows. His production is urgent when it needs to be, delightful throughout. Its score gave me a greater appreciation for the songs of Vera Lynn-who, by the way, is still kicking at 97. So we did meet again!

Take the love of your life to Fighting Over Beverley. It's that kind of show, and you'll leave arm in arm.

FIGHTING OVER BEVERLEY, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 24, Harlequin Productions, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, $20-$31, 360.786.0151

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