By Tyler Plosia
Playwright Conor McPherson is often mentioned in conversations about the Irish storytelling continuum. The Weir might be the main reason. It’s a ninety minute disregard for the axioms of character development; instead of assembling arcs or having his characters change in the ways they would in a good well-made-play, McPherson opts to have his rural Irish drunks simply tell each other tales.
The Irish Repertory’s production (which has been extended three times since May and comes to a close this weekend) is in many ways faithful to the demands of the script. The set is a visualization of the unadorned realism of the play’s location, and the sound design – which comes to the forefront infrequently and ominously – is an aural reminder of the eerie loneliness that a dark, empty town can conjure up. A tinny wind whirls outside as the players take refuge in an isolated old pub, but they also discover comfort in the other-worldliness of the ghost stories they share.
The acting of the production is more curious and disconnected than the various sub-narratives of the writing. Most of it is overzealous: Broadway projecting and gesturing in a theater which holds just a couple hundred. One exception is Billy Carter, who plays Brendan, a mostly-silent bartender who dwells in the background for much of the play. The attention he demands without words is impressive: through little expressions and recurring physical motifs, he manages to play the role that allows the audience to find a reasonable man in a pub full of fanciful creations, but he also manages to embody a believably down-and-out young man with no options but to stay behind the counter and keep to himself.
Exaggeration is a definite tool of the theater, because if you want the last row to notice it, etc, etc. But it’s important in other narrative art, too. An NC-17 rating promises a spectacle, and everyone loves a raunchy lyricist. But sometimes the subdued can prevail. Like in The Weir (on paper, anyway), which asks us to forget about certain expectations. Don’t try and anticipate plot points. Don’t wait for characters to overheat, just listen to them bounce tales off each other and, if you can locate your patience, react with them. If only most of the Irish Rep’s cast would heed The Weir‘s quietude.
The Weir runs through September 15th at the Irish Repertory Theater.