Is it the booze or is it the blarney? The two go together for the patrons of a remote Irish pub. However, their ghostly tall tales take an unexpectedly serious turn in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s revival of Conor McPherson’s The Weir (trailer here), which officially opened last Thursday night in New York.
Brenden’s pub is a quiet, out-of-the-way spot, aside from the dreaded nights when busloads of German tourists descend on the barkeep like locusts. Jack, the pugnacious mechanic, and the morose mother’s boy Jim have come to spy on Finbar Mack, the local wheeler-dealer as he attempts to charm the village’s newest resident. Valerie is a woman and therefore of interest to everyone present.
The former Dubliner seems genuinely interested in the history of the area and the legendary fairy road that supposedly runs through Brenden’s public house, opening the door for a series of ghost stories. Initially, they seem like campfire fare, but they have a profound effect on her. It seems she has her own deeply tragic story to tell that will echo and amplify the uncanny elements of their prior anecdotes.
McPherson is a great writer, with a flair for dialogue and a wonderfully sly approach to the telling of a tale. His mature, humanistic handling of supernatural themes comes as a welcome antidote to the adolescent angst of Twilight and the like. McPherson’s dramas, most certainly including the Olivier award winning The Weir, are also Irish to the bone, making them perfect vehicles for the Irish Rep. Indeed, The Weir boasts some wickedly droll “pub” humor. Yet, despite the heavy portents, it is shockingly endearing. While there are definitely spooky components, at its core The Weir speaks to the therapeutic benefits of getting pie-face hammered and talking malarkey.
The Weir is a true ensemble piece, but Jack the diehard Guinness man gets the big, climatic monologue and Dan Butler (probably best known as Bulldog on the Frasier show) absolutely kills with it. He masterfully expresses all of Jack’s bluster and his deepest regrets. In contrast, the hospitable Brenden might be the least showy role, because he is the only character who does not have his own personal yarn to spin (remember, it is a bartender’s job to listen). Still, he gets most of the funny bits, which Billy Carter makes the most of. He also develops some subtle as a dew drop chemistry with Tessa Klein’s Valerie.
A strong five-handed cast all around, John Keating and Sean Gormley add earthy color and character as Jim and Mack, respectively. Listening to their eerie camaraderie is a finely staged pleasure. Director and Irish Rep co-founder Ciarán O’Reilly seamlessly guides the memorable production through McPherson’s subtle tonal shifts. Patrons should know coming in it runs straight through without an intermission, but ushers will remind you about a thousand times before it starts. Highly recommended, The Weir runs through July 7th as part of the Irish Repertory Theatre’s 25th anniversary season.