The Weir

 

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Review by Marilyn Lester

 

Anyone who’s ever sat around a campfire telling ghost stories will likely take a shine to Conor McPherson’s atmospheric and intimate play, “The Weir.” This mounting by the Irish Repertory Theatre is a splendidly evocative telling of McPherson’s elegant meditation on human fragility, loneliness and the power of the past.

Set in a remote Irish country pub, the locals who gather here are themselves phantasms of a certain cultural identity. Jack (Paul O’Brien) first to enter the empty pub, pours himself a drink and puts coins in the till. Brendan the publican (Tim Ruddy) soon arrives and begins to set up. When these two old country bachelors are joined by a third, Jim (John Keating) and the banter and the drinking begin in earnest, it’s clear this is a comfortable, and comforting, nightly ritual. Outside the country wind howls, but inside it’s warm and cozy.

Sound designer Drew Levy has done a masterful job of balance in the sound of that wind. It’s haunting and ever-present, yet unobtrusive. Equally masterful is the authentic costuming of Leon Dobkowski, and Charlie Corcoran’s set. By the time Finbar (Sean Gormley) enters the pub with the object of the bachelors’ musings, the “blow-in” Valerie (Amanda Quaid), you have the feeling that you’ve been eavesdropping from a corner table all along.

Valerie is the fox in the chicken coop. She’s different, a Dubliner who drinks white wine. She’s both vulnerable and a cause for wariness. The married Finbar, a local who’s made good in the nearby town of Carrick, and who owns the cottage Valerie’s is renting, is especially protective – much to the good-natured derision of the others. But the question remains: why is she here alone, and so far away from home in this solitary place?

As the evening unfolds, the conversation drifts into the telling of ghost stories, made a tad eerier by Michael Gottlieb’s subtle but effective lighting changes. Soon the richness of McPherson’s narrative reveals itself and the more serious underpinnings of the play begin to emerge: what is real and what is not? what do each of us really believe, take as our faith? Yet even as the “The Weir” becomes progressively darker and more complex, it never sinks into blackness. McPherson keeps the humor flowing as much as he does the whiskey and the pints.

“The Weir” comes to a head in a double climax. Valerie, who’s been a keen listener heretofore, recounts the death of her five-year old daughter, Niamh, and its aftermath. The men are sympathetic, but the tragedy cuts too close to the bone; the genial mood of the evening is broken. Brendan closes the bar, as Jim and Finbar leave. The remaining three decide to have a “last one” and so huddle around the old peat-burning stove.

In this intensely intimate space, fueled by drink and the long dark night, Jack tells the most chilling – and most real – ghost story of all: an excruciating soul-baring of a decision made long ago and the consequences that still haunt him. Herein lies the one flaw of this mounting of “The Weir:” the moment calls for an almost whispered poignancy, a shift in Jack’s mood and state of mind, which O’Brien fails to give him. Instead, O’Brien maintains the hail-fellow-well-met persona of Jack’s character, which ultimately does a disservice to Jack’s searing act of courage.

Throughout, though, Director Ciarán O’Reilly keeps the pace moving and the action compelling. The acting is universally on the money, although Quaid seems to have not found the center of her character yet.

Earlier in the play, Valerie views photos hanging on the pub wall, including one of the weir, a low barrier dam with a spillway. Herein we understand: like Jack, how many of us construct such barriers in our own lives? Yet, “The Weir” ends with humor, for it’s humor that’s the grace that keeps us going despite loss and what could have been.

The Weir, July 9 through August 23, 2015, Tuesday and Thursdays 7 pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm, Fridays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm

 

The Irish Repertory at the DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th St., 212-727-2737, www.irishrep.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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