The Irish Repertory Theatre had an Off-Broadway hit with Conor McPerson’s The Weir in 2013, and is now mounting a sturdy revival with a fine cast, three of whom appeared in the earlier production. Company co-founder Ciar$aacute;n O’Reilly directs.
The Weir takes place over one evening in a pub in an Irish country town in 1997 – a very specific setting indeed – and obeys the Aristotelian unities. But as the pub’s denizens chat and gossip, then go on to spin the supernatural tales that are the meat of the drama, a vivid outside world of time and space unfolds – and a world beyond as well.
The pacing felt a little shaky in the early going during the preview I attended. Nonetheless the cast’s four men achieved that welcome theatrical effect that only a crafty script and carefully calibrated performances can: the firm illusion of long acquaintance and communal history.
When Valerie (Amanda Quaid), the stranger and the only woman among them, finally tells her own climactic and uniquely personal tale, a feeling of communal awe descends over the theater as the laughs subside into hushed transfixion. We’ve waited to find out why this thirtyish married woman has left Dublin to move alone into an old and apparently haunted country house in the sticks, where, as Jack tells her, she’s likely to get a “peace and quiet overload.” Valerie turns out to be no MacGuffin. She’s no mere excuse for middle-aged garage mechanic Jack (Paul O’Brien) and young bar owner Brendan (Tim Ruddy) to rag on married hotelier Finbar (Sean Gormley) for showing an attractive young woman around town and in the process showing off his way with the ladies.
Finbar is supposed to be notably younger than Jack and doesn’t look it. And the initial realistic switching on of various lights around the bar (a homey, atmospheric set by Charlie Corcoran) brought unwanted attention to unsubtle mood-enhancing brightening and dimming of the stage lights, which, for the most part, the production could have done without. Those quibbles aside, this is a captivating piece of work. Bathed in the persistent sound of a whistling wind, twinkle-eyed bachelor Jack is the emotional center of the pub until Valerie’s tale unfolds. Jack seems to have no on in his life but his quaffing pals. We learn why in the end, and also why Jack persists on urging taciturn young Brendan to find a wife.
Jim (John Keating), a more silent type, is another bachelor, and a figure who feels as real as real can be: observing from a distance, commenting seldom, a slight bemused smile on his face. Keating’s is that rare performance that opens the doors wide into a character’s soul with very few words (though Jim does get to tell his own weird tale). Jim does occasional work for Jack but seems occupied mostly in caring for his aging mother. Yet we meet none of the women in these men’s lives, not Jim’s mother, not Finbar’s wife, not Brendan’s meddling sisters, certainly not Jack’s long-ago paramour. McPherson’s story thus leaves the whole field clear for Valerie, and when she finally tells her tale, she fills it and then some. With her words she mesmerizes us as well as the men in the pub, while still leaving space for another character’s veneer to crack just as we think we’re in for a placid dénouement.
Maybe Valerie will find the peace and quiet she seeks. But however slow the pace may be in this rural part of Ireland, placid isn’t the word for the inner lives of its people. The Weir runs through August 23 at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square as the Irish Rep’s own space is being renovated. It’s well worth a visit – or a revisit.