Theater Review: ‘The Weir’

June 1, 2013 Updated: June 1, 2013

By Diana Barth

NEW YORK—Nobody but the Irish can convey that bittersweet sadness that can permeate the soul. Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” gracing the stage at the Irish Rep, starts off mildly, so mildly you will wonder if anything could ever happen here.

“Here” is a country pub somewhere in Ireland and brimming with so much detail, courtesy of set designer Charlie Corcoran, that you’d think it had been shipped over intact from the Oul’ Sod.

A few local denizens inhabit the place. Under the auspices of young owner Brendan (Billy Carter), the pub is regularly visited by the middle-aged garage owner, Jack (Dan Butler), and his younger assistant, Jim (John Keating). They go for the beer and cozy chats about not much of importance, how the day went, and so on.

But this day a special topic is on the table. One of their number, the only one who is married, Finbar (Sean Gormley), has been seen squiring about a young woman just in from Dublin, Valerie (Tessa Klein). Finbar has just rented her a house and is introducing her to the area. 

Not-so-muted jealousy permeates the atmosphere. It’s as if Finbar is implying that he, who already has a mate, can’t keep the women off of him, while the others are suffering in the state of singleness. 

When Finbar and Valerie finally enter, the others do their best to make welcome the attractive newcomer. Apparently, the presence of a woman in the pub is an unusual occurrence. Brendan accommodates Valerie’s request for white wine by going out to his house to find a bottle, obviously the only such bottle on the premises. 

The conversation turns to odd ghost stories offered by the men, who claim these are true stories. There are hints of how the supernatural has touched them. It is easy enough to imagine or even experience strange things in the pitch blackness of the Irish countryside at night.

Finally, Valerie answers the unspoken question as to what has brought her, a city woman, to a small, rural, isolated area like this. She relates the story of a tragic event in her life, a story that melds a painful occurrence with intimations of unreality—and which is so personal and poignant she may never recover from it. Suddenly, the atmosphere in the modest pub is suffused with her grief.

But there is more. Jack, who heretofore has not been one to bare his soul, now reveals a painful love story, one which is filled with regrets for a step not taken. Adding to the pain of it is the reaching out of an absolute stranger, who does Jack an unexpected kindness.

Loneliness and tenderness suffuse “The Weir.” Ultimately, it is a play about relationships and the human need for contact. One can’t expect much more than that from a theatrical experience.

Under the astute direction of Ciarán O’Reilly, cast members Dan Butler, Billy Carter, John Keating, Sean Gormley, and Tessa Klein project this rich mix of Irish and universal characters that stay with one long after the show has ended.

“The Weir”
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Tickets: 212-727-2737 or visit www.irishrep.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes 
Closes: July 7

Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: www.diabarth@juno.com.

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