Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Story Time

March 24, 2011

Richard Doyle and James Lancaster Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR.

It is a particularly good time for Irish playwrights. And by that I mean that some of the most consistently interesting and groundbreaking plays continue to come out of Ireland in the last two decades often from the pens of the triumvirate of Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, and Enda Walsh. And while Walsh has always been a particular favorite of mine for his brand of edgy surrealism, McPherson’s stage world is hard to resist with its sentimental brand of beautiful storytelling and the supernatural. One of his first big successes in the U.S. as a playwright, The Weir, has returned to Southern California at South Coast Repertory in an admirable and very enjoyable production. The play is a ghost story set in a bar in contemporary Ireland. A group of four local men and a woman who has recently moved to their town meet one evening and, with enough alcohol, soon become involved in telling different ghost stories. These stories become progressively more personal and intense as the night wears on. And while the play is not meant to be horrifying, McPherson is drawing a connection between what's scary in the supernatural world and the real life fears and traumas most people know all too well. I don't want to say too much more about what happens in The Weir since the beauty of the story is mostly in the telling of it.

McPherson's plays can be delicate things. They rely heavily on actors being storytellers in the most traditional sense, holding an audience rapt with the sound of their voice and the mastery with which they color and shape a series of events. There is little other action, and McPherson's plots often unfold within the context of the stories the characters tell to one another on stage. The Weir is no exception. In fact the play presages much of the material in McPherson's best known later plays, Shining City and The Seafarer. South Coast Repertory has brought together a cast that manages to get the primary tasks of the evening right. I was most impressed by Richard Doyle who plays Jack, the senior member of the group, and James Lancaster as Finbar, the local boy whose done well in real estate and now brings a client, a young woman not his wife, to meet some of the local townspeople. The cast is rounded out by the very capable Kirsten Potter, Daniel Reichert, and Tony Ward. Accents for the most part are quite stable across the board although some of the cast struggled a bit more with projecting to the back of the house than others. I also found some of the dialog and activity that link the stories in The Weir clumsy and uncertain under the direction of Warner Shook. But in a play whose heart and soul pours out of inebriated monologues, this is a relatively minor issue. The Weir is another largely successful offering from South Coast Repertory and is a great chance to expose yourself to one of the great living Irish playwrights of our time.


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