It's no exaggeration to say that plays like The Weir are the reason people go to the theater. Though audiences are sometimes seduced by special effects and big-name stars, when the lights come up and they all go home, a terrific story is what they'll talk about years after the glitz is forgotten.
In The Weir, four men and a woman gather at a small bar in rural Ireland. After a few drinks, they begin to tell each other stories, all but one of their tales featuring a supernatural element. The plot of the play as a whole is nothing more than a group of friends sharing drinks and spinning yarns. But each individual story has an arc and a melody all its own, and in the end the audience discovers that telling a tale also reveals quite a bit about the teller.
With a script so dependent on words and storytelling ability, a director would do best to adopt a hands-off approach; these powerhouse speeches could be read on a bare stage and lose little of their intensity. Director Heather Siobhan Curran showed a noteworthy restraint, polishing Conor McPherson's play rather than attempting to rewrite it. Despite an opening that wandered before finding its focus, Curran's direction was intelligent, smooth, and spare.
As Finbar, Mike Durkin displayed an extraordinary talent for storytelling. His gregarious character became the engine of what, in the hands of a lesser ensemble, could have turned into a slow-moving evening. As Valerie, the lone woman and a newcomer among a group of old friends, Brooke Delaney also showed commendable skills, as well an understated charm, while Joshua Bevans's Jim told a horrifying tale with a deft mix of wonder and aversion.
Todd Reemtsma's set designs at Gallery have never failed to impress, and this one was no different. Reemtsma kept the Irish bar simple and authentic, right down to the working beer tap. Christopher Chambers's lighting also succeeded, by subtly emphasizing the tension in the monologs that are the soul of the 100-minute, one-act script.
One could quibble over a few moments -- the occasional dropped accent, and lighting that once or twice distracted by coming up too slowly after a story. Yet all told, the cast and crew displayed a laudable dedication to the work. "Ah now, you have to enjoy it," one of the characters instructs the others as he tells his chilling tale. "You have to relish the details of something like this." Fine advice, here taken to heart.
At a time when gimmicks often take precedence over plotting, audiences are starving for good stories. The Gallery Players' presentation of The Weir was a welcome, nourishing meal. By offering tales ranging from spooky to sad to shocking, this praiseworthy production was not just an opportunity to go to see a play -- it was a reason to keep returning to the theater.
(Also featuring John Blaylock and Patrick Toon.)
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Copyright 2004 Ken Jaworowski