|A CurtainUp Review
The Weir by Elyse Sommer
Irish writers have long, and often justifiably, been hailed as great story tellers. Two young playwrights who have been hailed as the new masters of old-fashioned Irish story-telling are Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh. Now McPherson's latest tale of ghostly remembrances, The Weir, has replaced McDonagh The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Unlike that gritty, melodrama, The Weir, is a less splashy affair defined by the authenticity of its language and quiet good will. Like McPherson's previous play, St. Nicholas, it's a ghost story -- or to be more specific, three ghost stories. The setting is a dark, dilapidated and not particularly well-stocked bar in the Irish countryside situated near a dam (the Weir of the title) and with the wind whistling outside.
There's no plot per se, just three local men and one outsider -- a young Dublin woman who has just bought a house in the area. Her presence in the pub prompts three ghost stories. The first concerns the house she's going to live in and the last and most dramatic and universal reveals what brought this city woman to this forsaken countryside. There is a connecting thread to all three which give the play a degree of charm and poignancy.
Three of the cast members from rave-producing and award-winning London production are still in place. Fortunately that includes Jim Norton who gives a standout performance as the fifty-ish Jack who claims to have no regrets about never marrying but quite clearly does. Michelle Fairley and Dermot Crowley who now play Valerie and Finbar couldn't be better. Fairley's air of vulnerability and sadness is apparent even before her own ghost story clarifies it.
When McPherson has Jack say "You have to relish the details" he could have been talking about himself. He does indeed have an eye and ear for detail. But for all the finely etched characterizations and excellent acting, The Weir struck me as being in too minor a key to live up to the raves and awards it garnered in London.
One London critic declared "I have rarely been so convinced that I have just seen a modern classic." To this critic this seems akin to the way people currently give standing ovations to everything, without differentiating between mild-to-enthusiastic applause and the kind of approval that has you leaping out of your seat and yelling "bravo."
The Weir is a nice, quiet little play that would have looked and played better in a small theater like Primary Stages (where I saw and liked St. Nicholas and where McPherson's The Lime Tree Bower is scheduled to open soon). If you pressed me to name a barroom classic, I wouldn't have to think hard. The Iceman Cometh by our leading Irish-American playwright, Eugene O'Neill is worthy of that label -- which brings me to the problem of timing. If I'd seen The Weir three weeks ago when it opened officially, my review of Iceman would have come afterwards. With the order of viewing reversed perhaps McPherson's barroom wouldn't have looked quite so over-sized and underpopulated and his ghost stories so trivial in comparison to this more potent than ever theatrical experience.
If you can't get enough of barroom plays with the bar peopled by ordinary but very human people, you'll want to see both plays -- but see The Weir first. If you want to see an Irish classic -- no contest -- see the Iceman -- period.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
he Cripple of Inishmaan
The Iceman Cometh