Connor McPherson’s "The Weir,"
with its spine-tingling ghost stories told in a rural Irish pub,
allows the Gallery Players to show off what they do best - provide
top-notch acting and create a masterful, realistic set.
Set designer Todd M. Reemtsma has recreated a typical Irish pub that’s perfect down to the lace window curtains and Irish flag beneath the television. And Heather Siobhan Curran directs a top-notch cast that makes the spoken word a joy to hear.
And that is especially important here, as Curran makes a valiant effort to keep her actors moving in a play that basically has no action, or plot. The cast has mastered the Irish accent and Gaelic mannerisms so well they might well have kissed the Blarney Stone. But there is probably nothing that can be done with McPherson’s work to make it into a play.
"The Weir" is about four pub regulars: Jim (Joshua Bevans), Brendan (Patrick Toon), Finbar (Mike Durkin) and Jack (John Blaylock, having grown a beard and shed the English accent he is so often called upon to use in Gallery Players productions), who regularly pass the time and quench their thirst at a local pub, in an isolated town where there really isn’t much else to do.
When Finbar, a wealthy businessman and property owner, brings over a woman named Valerie (Brooke Delaney), who has just bought a house from him, the men exchange their idle gossip and harmless barrage of insults for the telling of tall tales.
They do this with an eloquence, a sense of foreboding and an evocation of the magical and mysterious that have made the Irish among the best authors of the English language (as any Irishman will tell you).
Jack, an aging bachelor, tells a story about a house (the very one Valerie has just bought) that was constructed on a route used by fairies. Finbar relates a scary story about a strange woman he saw at the top of a staircase. Finally, Jim timidly tells of how, when digging a grave, he met the man who was destined for it.
But it is Valerie who has the most frightening and heart-rending story of all. And it is her story that brings out the compassion, friendship and common decency in all four men.
In an exceedingly laudatory review, Fergus McGillicuddy called the London production of "The Weir," "a darkly magical, lyrical little play with no plot to speak of beyond the transforming effects of the spoken word."
Apparently he didn’t mind this lack of plot. Neither did the respondents to The Royal National Theatre’s survey who voted "The Weir" one of the most significant plays of the 20th century, nor the London Evening Standard, which gave McPherson its Most Promising Playwright award. And when the production moved to a theater on England’s West End, it won the 1999 Olivier Award for Best New Play.
But this reviewer did mind. And, possibly, American audiences did, too. "The Weir" opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 1, 1999 and closed seven months later, after 277 performances. Not exactly a stellar run.
A weir is a dam, and a dam can either hold water or let it come forth, sometimes as a powerful flood. In McPherson’s play the weir metaphorically breaks and lets loose a flood of words that sets free the emotions each storyteller has kept bottled up - sometimes for years.
But after the stories are over, as beautifully rendered as they are, one does not get the feeling that much has changed. No new decisions have been made, no old ones broken. No one has changed his mind or resolved to take new steps. There’s a touch of regret, a bit of advice and everyone leaves to go home.
Perhaps at a time when we are saturated with the meaningless dialogue of television sitcoms and blockbuster movies, when films can sweep the Academy Awards without garnering a single award for acting, many may think it enough for a play to have good dialogue delivered well and with feeling.
But we have a right to demand more of our playwrights. We have a right to demand vision. We have a right to demand movement. We have a right to demand problems, and alternatives if not solutions.
"The Weir" is a wonderfully executed production. It is a sheer pleasure to watch every one of these talented actors. But at the end of the play, one may wish they were given a little more to say.
The Gallery Players production of "The
Weir" runs through April 11: Thursday through Saturday,
at 8 pm and Sunday, at 3 pm. Tickets are $15, $12 seniors and
children under 12. The Gallery Players are located at 199 14th
St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope. For more
information, call (718) 595-0547 or visit www.galler