Irish Repertory Theatre
This Conor McPherson play was a big deal in the late 1990s. The original Broadway production caused quite a stir in theater circles and made McPherson famous; it was even voted one of the best plays of the 20th century in a poll conducted by the Royal National Theatre. The Weir's daring is that it's basically a series of stories told by each actor in turn, ghost stories or ghostly stories that toy with the idea of Irish superstition and gift-of-the-gab yarn-spinning. These stories function as set-piece monologues, and they require virtuoso, highly specific acting, because it’s very easy for an audience’s attention to wander during such long tales.
At the Irish Rep’s revival of McPherson’s play (through July 7), as each of the stories started, I kept my eye on a very beautiful and sensitive-looking older woman in the audience who had the most open face imaginable; at the beginning of every story, her attention was bright and sharp. On stage, the scrappy Jack (Dan Butler) goes first, and then the slightly uppity Finbar (Sean Gormley) and then the simple and kind Jim (John Keating). As each of them went on, the older woman in the audience listened attentively but then, gradually, her attention would falter because the stories don't follow a clear narrative line, and the actors weren't able to make them build. I read the play a long time ago, but I found it difficult to keep track of these twisty tales as they unfurled.
The only exception was the monologue by Valerie (Tessa Klein) about losing her daughter. This one, a tale of personal loss, is very different from the others, and Klein delivers it in a realistic, un-showy fashion that suits the way her story changes gears; it's a kind of reality check amid the time-passing yarns that precede it. It’s possible, at this point, to see just how The Weir must have worked on Broadway in 1999: as a series of vivid, lively monologues brought to a halt by the story of a woman who has lost a child and feels the need to talk about it.
It’s easy to see why actors want to do this play, because they each get to hold center stage for a while (except for Brenden, the bartender played by Billy Carter, who doesn’t get a story of his own). But this is clearly a difficult play to pull off without enormous resources of technique, charm and authority. And though the actors here try their very best, they still frequently lose the audience. Butler, in particular, seems miscast as his sad character—he’s too robust and resilient to seem like a man who has been worn down by life. The Weir is an exceptional play, but here, the cast and crew just can't bring it fully to life.