When the curtain rises on Burning Coal Theatre Company’s production of The Weir by Connor McPherson, it’s a dreary, windy night at a remote pub in Ireland. Two locals, Jim (Lucius Robinson) and Jack (Simon Kaplan), drink beer to stave off the cold. They talk with the bar’s owner, Brendan (Jordan Wolfe), about the weather; but their talk quickly drifts to scuttlebutt about Finbar, another local man who long ago left the area to seek his fortune in Dublin.
Jack has heard that Finbar (David Dossey) has been seen showing a new girl, Valerie (Emily Rieder), around the area; and Jack figures that they will be coming to the pub for a drink. Jack’s snippy gossip quickly changes to awkward greetings when Finbar and Valerie finally arrive at the pub.
As they all chat with the newcomer, their awkwardness is palpable; and they drink heavily (“just one more small one”) while picking at one another. Teasing banter it is not.
There is a puzzling tension running just beneath the surface of their interactions that goes past congenial bar banter and into straight-out rudeness, especially since there is a guest in their midst. Since this undercurrent is never explained, the men’s sniping about each other’s lives seems merely a mechanism to learn more about their backstories.
For instance, Jack is angry at Finbar, because he left for Dublin. Yet, when we learn that Jack regrets not leaving for town himself, it does not explain why he is so angry at Finbar. It also begs the question why Finbar would stay to drink with Jack. But these are questions for the playwright, not the producers of this show.
Jack is the old bachelor. Brendan is the conciliatory barkeep used to listening to his clientele. Jim is the quiet laborer. They all appear to be staving off loneliness and holding back for so long that they don’t know how to make a connection. Even Finbar feels compelled to defend having left town.
To make conversation, the men stiltedly tell Laura about local folklore, fairy stories, and then gingerly start telling ghostly stories that may or may not have occurred to them. All of these men want to reveal their true selves, yet they are all afraid. They are afraid to be rejected. They are afraid to be seen as crazy for believing in ghosts. It is only when Valerie courageously tells of her very real recent loss that the door to a real connection is cracked open.
In fact, Emily Rieder’s Valerie was the highlight of the show for us. Her awkward yet hopeful politeness as a newcomer to the group and her emotional revealing of the loss that led her to move to the country were the perfect grounding for the show. We only wish that the other characters’ interactions were not so forced.
The set by Tom Burch was terrific, and the pub seemed pulled straight out of the Irish backcountry. Natty wingchairs, mismatched tables, a wall covered in knickknacks, old photos, and odds and ends speak of a well-loved gathering place full of items culled from a lifetime of visits by Guinness drinkers. Kudos to Rebecca Bossen, the dialect coach, as the actors all had terrific Irish accents when lent even more authenticity to the production.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: While the winds howl at the beginning of the show, and the characters refer to it several times, it only howls during the opening scene. We would have loved to have been reminded about the bleak, chilly night throughout.
Ultimately, the play is about isolation, loneliness, and the need for connection. It’s about the ghosts that haunt our lives, both literal and figurative, and how we deal with them. Unfortunately, what could be a piece about universal human truths was sidetracked by the stilted dialog between the main characters that left us with more questions than answers.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 7th Raleigh, NC Chatham Life & Style review by Dustin K. Britt (who gave the show 3 of 5 stars): https://chathamlifeandstyle.com/reviews-and-features; and Dec. 6th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review Lauren Van Hemert: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-THE-WEIR-at-Burning-Coal-Theatre-Stirs-Up-Haunting-Tale-of-Woe-20181206; and Dec. 5th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who gave the show 4 of 5 stars): https://indyweek.com/culture/stage/in-the-weir-the-real-horror-begins-when-the-ghosts-leave-us-/ and Nov. 28th mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/the-weir-at-burning-coal/; and Nov. 30th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9177. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 10th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/12/the-weir-at-burning-coal-features-a-grand-script-five-skilled-actors-and-a-wise-director/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents THE WEIR at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13-15 and 2 p.m. Dec. 16 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St. Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursday, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or https://burningcoal.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S6A000000sDrnUAE.
SHOW: https://burningcoal.org/the-weir-2/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/189219961966350/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://burningcoal.org/the-weir-2/#watch.
2018-19 SEASON: http://burningcoal.org/season/.
PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.
The Weir (1997 West End and 1999 Broadway drama): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2835 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/conor-mcpherson/work/the-weir-donmar (Curtis Brown page), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-weir-9223 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Weir (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Conor McPherson (Irish playwright and screenwriter): https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/conor-mcpherson (Curtis Brown bio), ttp://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/3504 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/conor-mcpherson-4900 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0574217/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conor_McPherson (Wikipedia).
Jerome Davis (Raleigh, NC director and Burning Coal’s founding artistic director): https://burningcoal.org/jerome-davis/ (Burning Coal bio) and https://www.facebook.com/jerome.davis.5686 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.