It is a surprising move by the Irish Rep to reprise a production they first mounted only two years ago, but there is little to complain about when that production is the theater’s excellent rendition of Conor McPherson’s beautiful play, The Weir. Ciaran O’Reilly again directs and guides the performers (three of whom – John Keating, Sean Gormley and Paul O’Brian – return from the 2013 cast) skillfully toward the great depths of McPherson’s characters. The production by necessity invites comparisons to its predecessor last season, and suffers just a bit in the process – last season’s production was cast better – but this show shines nonetheless as a moving exploration of the balance between loneliness and community in rural Ireland.
The play takes place over one evening in the country pub owned by Brendan (Tim Ruddy) and populated by the same group of regulars we could expect to meet at Brendan’s place on any given night. Jack (Paul O’Brien) shows up first and, after thoroughly wiping his feet and finding the bar unattended, helps himself to a beer and puts his payment in the tiller. Brendan walks in while Jack is fiddling with the register and greets him cordially: this is the type of bar where community members trust each other, invested above all in sharing company and conversation.
Jack and Brendan will soon be joined by Jim (Keating), and ultimately by Finbar (Sean Gormley), a local man who has made himself wealthy in real estate dealings and on this night is showing the area to Valerie (Amanda Quaid), a Dublin woman who just bought a house out in the country. Finbar is bringing her to the bar to meet some of the locals, all of whom welcome her warmly but are bit thrown when she orders a glass of white wine in a pub like this.
In hopes of making Valerie feel comfortable, the men spend much of the evening telling stories—old yarns about the area that inevitably invoke ghosts and other mystical forces. All are a bit spooky, like the dark countryside itself. Ultimately the men worry that they might have made Valerie uncomfortable with their ghost stories, but their anxieties are allayed when she tells a story of her own that tops them all.
The Weir is a short play made up of little more than some friends sitting around a local pub telling tales, but McPherson is a playwright that finds great human tenderness in such situations. As he did early in his career with full-length monologue plays, McPherson shows himself in The Weir – which was his first non-monologue ensemble play when it premiered in 1997 – to be most interested in what stories reveal about their teller and the condition of their telling. The Weir is not a play about the content of the stories, but about the act of telling them. What is left unsaid in these stories but made plain through McPherson’s dramaturgy is the power of storytelling to combat loneliness at least for a time, and to foster a sense of community in and around the story. This is a theme that runs through McPherson’s work, and O’Reilly’s direction proves insightful in capturing McPherson’s characters’ powerful urge for sharing themselves with the community in the hopes of finding a more clear understanding of the world.