Strong performances in Rogue production of fine Irish play
It’s fitting that Rogue Theatre’s pro-duction of Conor McPherson’s The Weir opened here on Halloween weekend, for this touchingly bittersweet play from 1997 is loaded with ghost stories.
Set in a rural Irish pub and unfolding in real time—an hour and 40 minutes—the play opens when Jack (Roger Montalbano), a crusty old-timer who owns an auto-repair shop, enters the pub and, seeing nobody behind the bar, helps himself to a beer. Brendan (Sean Green), the pub’s owner, soon enters, as does Jim (Joe Hilsee), whose only job seems to be caring for his aged and ailing mother.
These men are inveterate bachelors, and the pub serves them as a second home, a place where they can step away from their isolation and loneliness, if only for a while. They hide their sadness from each other and, indeed, from themselves by cracking jokes and swapping yarns and, above all, by drinking copious amounts of beer and whiskey.
Enter Finbar (Shawn Galloway), a successful businessman (at least by local standards) who is squiring around Valerie (Hilary Tellesen), an attractive young woman who for unknown reasons has moved down from Dublin and rented a house locally.
It’s rare for a woman, especially a pretty woman, to enter the pub, and the men soon begin competing for her attention, mostly by conjuring the fantastical ghost stories for which Ireland is justly famous.
Jack tells one about faeries that haunted a local house that was built right on their migration path, not realizing that it’s the very house Valerie has rented. Jim tells a doozy about being drunk and feverish with the flu while at work in a cemetery, digging a grave. When a man appears to tell him he’s digging in the wrong place, Jim recognizes him as the man who had died.
And so it goes, until Valerie tells her own haunting tale, but one that is heartbreakingly true. At first the men don’t know what to do with it and stumble over each other, trying to deny its truth even as they sympathize deeply with Valerie. It’s as if her tale cracks them open somehow, and now they can start telling the truth about themselves.
And so Jack tells yet another story, this one about a woman he loved when he was young but let get away because he was too timid to follow her to Dublin. Montalbano handles it beautifully, never becoming maudlin, but allowing his pain and loneliness to be visible, no doubt for the first time.
The actors, all veterans of local theater, were uniformly excellent. They’d incorporated just enough Irish accent to sound realistic, they understood their characters fully, and they played off each other like a well-seasoned team.
Tellesen is deserving of special mention. The story Valerie tells, unlike the others told that night, is deeply personal and moving. It asks her to bare some extremely painful emotions. I found it hard to watch her; she was so raw and hurting in the scene.
There is no great resolution in The Weir, just as there is rarely resolution in life. The play ends when everybody goes home and Brendan turns off the last light and closes the door behind him. But the viewer is left with the sense that, though these people might be back in the pub tomorrow night, their lives will never be the same.
End note: The Weir was directed, most impressively, by Amber Miller, who also did the economical-but-effective set and scenic design. My only complaint is that the staging lacked the sound of the wind blowing outside the pub. It’s an important element of the play, often mentioned by the characters, and we should have been able to hear it.