Now extended thru February 4
McPherson’s ‘Weir’ a pleasant way to spend an evening
|Irish Theatre of Chicago presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
A “weir” is a small dam in a stream or river. The weir figures into one of the yarns told by the main characters in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s play of the same name. At a bar in rural Ireland, five people gather on a rainy night to drink and tell stories. Like many Irish Catholics, they harbor strong beliefs in the supernatural, in lore and in Guinness. Celebrated playwright Conor McPherson wrote The Weir at only 26 years old and is now one of Ireland’s foremost playwrights (his The Seafarer was previously produced by ITC to rave reviews). McPherson’s writing captures the quintessential nature of the Irish, though I wish The Weir’s sole female character was more broadly defined and less of a stereotype. Overall, ITC’s production is a pleasant way to spend an evening.
The Weir begins with bartender Brendan (Bradley Grant Smith) pouring Guiness and chatting with patron Jim (Jeff Christian), the latter a big teddy bear of a man with a fondness for beer and company. In blows Jack (Brad Armacost), an older single man seeking shelter from the impending storm and bearing local gossip: the married Finbar (Dan Waller) has been seen around town with a mysterious woman. Moments later, Finbar enters with the woman, Valerie (Sarah Wellington). Valerie is pretty, polite and quiet, and the men fall all over themselves to get her a drink and try to top each other with the scariest, most ghostly story. Valerie, however, isn’t as forthcoming: what’s her story? What is she hiding? And why is she here?
My main issue with The Weir, as mentioned above, is the character of Valerie. Though Wellington gives an excellent performance, bringing a gentle sympathy to her interpretation, she’s not quite as fully formed as the other four, despite being the central character in many ways. In many instances, when a female character has a secret, it’s one of two things. (I won’t state them so as not to spoil the play, but you can likely guess one or both.) It’s not hard to predict Valerie’s secret, and while it’s certainly tragic, I do wish male playwrights would realize that women can be grieving about more than two life occurrences. Additionally, The Weir drags toward the end with its final story, delivered by a character that’s already dominated many exchanges.
On the plus side, Merje Veski’s lovely, understated set perfectly embodies a shabby but warm Irish bar, unfussy in decoration but bursting with spirit. Wellington is a standout, but the other actors complement her nicely, especially Smith’s empathetic bartender and Waller’s well-meaning companion. Both Christian and Armacost provide strong supporting performances, commanding the stage during their respective stories but never losing sight of their surroundings and fellow actors. The Weir isn’t anything groundbreaking, but that’s all right: at its core it’s both sad and funny, personifying the Irish as reticent but strong-willed, a people who will go on no matter what.
The Weir continues through
January 22 February 4th at Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $26-$30 (seniors & students $5 off), and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at IrishTheatreOfChicago.org. (Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Emily Schwartz
behind the scenes
Siiri Scott (director), Merje Veski (scenic design), Aly Renee Amidei (costume design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Joe Court (sound design), Jen Bukovsky (stage manager), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Emily Schwartz (photographer)