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Theatre Review (Costa Mesa): The Weir by Conor McPherson at South Coast Repertory

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Conor McPherson’s The Weir is part storytelling and part poetry. The premise is simple; a group of men and one woman gather in a bar on a windy, rainy night, and proceed to tell stories—ghost stories. Valerie (Kirsten Potter) is new in town and the four men want to impress her in hopes of perhaps finding a lover. As in most Irish plays the setting is cold and damp, and so forlorn that the only inhabitants are lonely and often drinkers.

The title comes from the meaning of a weir: a boundary on a river that can function as a sort of dam. The weir can affect the flow of water, prevent flooding, and allow the flow of water to be regulated. The weir is a sort of crossroads that stands between two worlds and can alter the course of nature. That is what these men are trying to accomplish by telling their stories. The problem is the stories take on a life of their own. Each mans ends up telling an event in their lives, involving a ghost, who altered their lives and more or less explains their yearning for attachment.

Each of the characters is given his chance to be a storyteller. The Irish are known as a land of storytellers so the stories, or monologues, are little plays in themselves and the audience, like the characters, are slowly drawn into the world of the afterlife. The Irish have their set of superstitions and stories that fit right in with the telling of a ghost story, whether they involve the “wee people” or the leprechauns, or haunted buildings and cemeteries. As the play evolves we too are drawn into this world and when the woman decides to tell her tale of why she came to this desolate place and what had happened, the aura inside the bar gets very dark and scary. We are even, perhaps, witness to a haunting.

The play provides great monologues for the actors. Monologues take special skill but this talented cast, chosen and directed by Warner Shook, are up to the task. SCR veteran Richard Doyle plays one of his crusty old-timers with a penchant for drink. Brendan the barkeep is played by Tony Ward; it is his job to keep the others in tow. Daniel Reichert is wonderful as the lonely doe-eyed regular who normally keeps to himself; we find out why in the course of the play. The slick and married Finbar is played with just the right mix of pushiness and sympathy by James Lancaster. Kristen Potter is just right as Valerie, mixing availability with a secret. Warner Shook’s direction is smooth and allows the tension to build. The Weir played at South Coast Repertory and closed April 3.

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