“The Weir,” written by Connor McPherson and directed by Ciarán O’Reilly was presented as a theater webcast by The Irish Repertory Theatre from July 21st to July 25th. It was also a stunning revival, having been performed by this company in 2013 and 2015.
The way that the Irish Rep had to deliver this play during the COVID-19 crisis — via user-friendly technology without altering the intimacy of “The Weir” — sets the bar for all other theatre companies. In fact, the intimacy was enhanced. The sound of the wild wind that blew fifteen minutes before curtain was both effective and evocative; it welcomed one right into the country pub, as did viewing the imbibing in close quarters. After watching the regulars drink pint after pint along with “a small one” of whisky, it is no wonder McPherson called this “the drinking play.”
If drinking goes part of the way to stave off the loneliness, then telling stories helps as well: about fairies, about the supernatural, about the inexplicable. Conor McPherson said he didn’t understand all the fuss about “The Weir,” that it was just a bunch of people in a pub telling stories. But make no mistake: “The Weir” is a masterpiece of language, of relationships among men who have known each other all their lives, their loneliness and the way each has been haunted.
Jack (Dan Butler), in his 60’s, mechanic and auto body shop owner, arrives at the pub just before the bartender Brendan (Tim Ruddy), in his 40’s, comes to open up. Jim (John Keating), also in his 40’s and another pub regular, soon turns up; he is a simple sort who lives with his ailing mother and does the odd job, takes the odd bet. The talk of the pub is Finbar (Sean Gormley), also about 60, who has moved away from the country and is now a hotel owner in the town. He thinks very highly of himself, does Finbar, and has taken to showing a newcomer, Valerie (Amanda Quaid), a woman in her 30’s, about the place. She has come from Dublin for reasons unknown and is renting the old Nealon place. With the exception of Finbar, all of the men are bachelors. Yet Finbar is the one squiring her around town, and then right into the pub. This causes a bit of trouble. Rivalry. Jealousy. And a lot of talk.
And talk they do, in the manner of ghost stories. Finbar has one about the old Nealon place, then realizes he may have frightened Valerie. “It’s only an old cod,” he says, but Valerie wants to hear the stories and asks the men to go on. Jim tells a particularly chilling story to do with a graveyard and a pedophile; afterwards, when Valerie leaves for the “ladies’ room,” the men chide him for telling a “terrible story” in front of her.
But Valerie has found communion with the men. She takes comfort in their stories, connects to their loneliness, so she tells her tragic story of loss, which is more immediate, wrenching, devastating. The men come up with rationalizations, which is not what she is after. There is no good reason for what she has gone through. To have listened to them and they to her is enough. As she says, “I know I’m not crazy.”
After Jim and Finbar have departed, Jack tells his own story about lost love and acknowledges that he has neither the courage nor capacity to change. He has earned his solitude and frustration – his own haunting. When Jack says, “And I’ll tell you—there’s not one morning I don’t wake up with her name in the room,’” the pain he has carried for forty years is palpable. Shaking it off, Jack reminds Brendan that he just might be spared the fate of the other men and himself, if he bothers to listen to him.
All of the performances were superb, beautifully directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, and in this medium, the actors’ fine faces registered every emotion of the stories they told. Butler’s lost love story tore me to bits. Keating was all sweet sadness and his ghost story a thriller. Gormley’s Finbar, for all his swagger, escaped the country but not being alone. Quaid’s personal loss is devastating. And Ruddy kept the peace and held it all together as he poured, served, and drank.
I am hoping the Irish Repertory Theatre does this play again via theatre webcast. Four performances were not enough. As many people as possible need to see this fine play and brilliant ensemble, with or without pandemic. “The Weir” will succeed in any format for one good reason: it is a great play.