NEW YORK (AP) — Acclaimed Irish dramatist Conor McPherson ("The Shining City") showed the power and treachery of storytelling in his 1997 Olivier Award-winning classic, "The Weir." One minute it's all good-natured ribbing and laughter and local ghost stories, and the next, somebody tells a true story so painful that it stuns the crowd.
Irish Repertory Theater is presenting a taut, effective revival that opened Thursday night, directed by Ciaran O'Reilly. The plot is deceptively simple: three local men gathered in a rural Irish pub have a pint or three, while sharing ghost stories to impress the attractive new female in town, until she quietly tops them all with her haunting personal story of tragedy and loss.
McPherson's deft language and compassionate view of human foibles, combined with O'Reilly's discerning direction, allows each character to reveal their distinctive differences. The storytellers' involvement in their own tales adds to the developing supernatural atmosphere.
As garage owner Jack, a middle-aged bachelor who calls himself "a contrary bollocks," Dan Butler is scrappy while also subtly showing his character's basic decency beneath the feisty exterior. Butler's vigorous manner contrasts with laid-back bartender and pub owner Brenden, younger but also still single, given a quietly staunch presence by Billy Carter. With typical Irish bravado, this pair of obviously lonely bachelors has a ruefully humorous chat about preserving their freedom and independence.
Sean Gormley is briskly smug and condescending as local businessman Finbar Mack, barely concealing his character's patronizing air toward his less fortunate former neighbors beneath a thin veneer of jollity. Though Finbar enjoys brandishing his wealth over his old acquaintances, his gloating is wasted on bemused fellow barfly and handyman Jimmy (John Keating, bearing an air of placid serenity.)
Tessa Klein is delicately nervous as mysterious newcomer Valerie, whose unknown reasons for coming to this secluded area from Dublin add to the suspense. Klein acts shy and ladylike while Jack, Jim and Sean show off their storytelling skills. But when Valerie finally decides to share a ghost story of her own, Klein's emotional narrative brings a poignant realism to her character.
Late in the evening, Jack shares a tale of a pivotal time in his life, then notes reflectively, "There was a humility I've tried to find since. But goodness wears off." Yet through the compassion and human fallibility of his characters, McPherson provides hope that, although goodness may wear off, it's also a renewable virtue.