Sitting in a warm cozy pub on a chilly, blustery night is not a bad proposition this time of year. But when it’s an Irish pub in a Conor McPherson play, you know something unusual will unfold.
When: To Jan. 22, 2017
Where: Irish Theatre of Chicago at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee
Tickets:, $26, $30
That’s exactly what happens in “The Weir,” the engrossing comedy-drama that landed on Broadway in 1999 and introduced the then young playwright to American audiences. McPherson’s work remains perfectly at home at Irish Theatre of Chicago, a company currently restaging its 2010 production of “The Weir” with most of the original cast in tact and directed in fine detail by Siiri Scott.
Conversation and storytelling are what interest McPherson. With “The Weir,” he plunks a varied group of people into a pub to see what unfolds as they chat, quarrel and find a connective understanding. It’s a haunting, beautifully written play with a light, comedic touch and a deep lived-in feel.
On this blustery night, 60ish bachelor Jack (Brad Armacost) shuffles into a rural pub and pours himself a Guinness, frowning at the fact that it’s from a bottle and not the cursedly broken tap. Barkeep Brendan (Bradley Grant Smith) and longtime friend Jim (Jeff Christian), who lives with his mother and does odd jobs around town, soon join him. As the evening unwinds, the conversation turns to speculation about a new arrival in town, Valerie (Sarah Wellington), and her reasons for relocating from Dublin to the countryside.
Their cocky mate, Finbar (Dan Waller, new to the cast), who is the only married one of the lot, has sold Valerie a house and takes it upon himself to show her off to the town folk. It’s the understanding among the men that she is looking for peace and quiet.
When Finbar and Valerie walk in out of the cold and join in the conversation, copious amounts of Guinness and spirits are downed as the evening wears on and the storytelling takes over. The men compete for Valerie’s attention with a tales only the Irish can tell, filled with ghosts, fairies and hauntings. But it is Valerie’s from-the-heart tale that creates the biggest chill of the evening.
All the performances fit easily into McPherson’s world. Wellington is quietly understated as Valerie, a women looking to find a sort of redemption after a searing tragedy in her life. Weller is finely tuned bluster as Finbar, a man about town who may or may not know his own limits.
But it is Armacost, whose performance in the intimate space at The Den Theatre, is one you won’t soon forget. He is riveting as the jovial elder statesman of the group who years earlier lost his one chance at romance. You can’t take your eyes off him throughout especially in the thoughtful, somber moment when he relates to his pub mates the little glitches that sadly set a life on a different course.
In the end, “The Weir” is not merely a series of chilling stories filled with Irish myth and magic; it goes much deeper than that. It’s about the future and all the things that a person must face alone. And it’s about community, about the moments of friendship, which pull these people together and offer respite even as the loneliness, grief and regret continue to hover in their corner of the Irish countryside.
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.