If you’ve spent any serious time (or not so serious time) with pals at a corner bar you know that the more booze or whiskey consumed, the taller the tales. If that bar happens to be in Ireland you can count on the tales being spooky. In Conor McPherson’s The Weir, produced many times in Europe and in the U.S. since it was written in 1997, the bar is a rural Irish pub run by a good-natured innkeeper named Brendan. One dark, windy night, there’s drinking and storytelling aplenty in his place: from salty philosopher Jack, who runs a garage; from sad-sack handyman Jim; from smug businessman Finbar, and from Finbar’s companion, a lovely young newbie to the neighborhood named Valerie.
Atmosphere is as much front and center as the plot in New Village Arts’ affectionate interpretation of The Weir, directed by Kristianne Kurner on a cozy pub set by Kelly Kissinger that practically begs you to hop right onto it, the better to order a Guinness and join the conversation. Some of that conversation’s a might difficult to understand early on, so thick are the Irish brogues (especially Ron Choularton’s, who plays Jack). But once all the characters are on stage (Max Macke’s Brendan, Tom Deak’s Jim, Tom Stephenson’s Finbar, Samantha Ginn’s Valerie), the ghost stories begin and the uneasiness ramps up. If you’ve read or seen The Weir, you know that Valerie’s true-to-life story ends up out-horrifying any of the others’ colorful tales, which may be born of imagination and drink as much as fact.
There’s an uneven pace to this lengthy-one-act play, with the camaraderie-filled first 30 minutes not nearly as engrossing as what follows. Watching the barflies go through beer and whiskey as if it were Doomsday’s Eve seems more important than what they’re actually saying. But this elegantly appointed production’s cast is an estimable one, with Ginn and Choularton proving genuinely sympathetic (you’ll be hard pressed to keep a stiff upper lip when Valerie tells her story), and the others are pro’s pros from start to finish. By curtain, The Weir isn’t really a ghost story at all, but one of flesh and blood, and shelter from the storms inside us.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat