weir_postcard_230_2By Conor McPherson
Directed by Matt Miller
Performed at The Irish American Heritage Center
4626 North Knox Avenue 

August 26 – October 3, 2010
EXTENDED through October 17, 2010

Jeff Awards Nomination (Actor in a Principal Role): Brad Armacost
Jeff Awards Nomination (Scenic Design): Bob Groth & Jenniffer Thusing


An enigmatic young woman from Dublin finds herself the center of attention at a local pub. Pints in hand, the local barflies recount ghostly tales of the supernatural to impress and entertain her, but it is the visitor herself who relates the most unsettling story of all. Conor McPherson wrote the hauntingly beautiful and humorous play The Weir at the age of 26, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright.

Photos by Eileen Molony


 

THE CAST
Jack Brad Armacost*
Jim Jeff Christian*
Finbar Kevin Theis*
Valerie Sarah Wellington
Brendan Brad Smith
PRODUCTION STAFF
Director Matt Miller
Scenic Designer Robert Groth
Lighting Designer Julian Pike
Sound Designer Joe Court
Costume Designer Aly Renee Greaves
Properties Designer Gretel Ulyshen
Dialect Coach Barbara Zahora

*Member of Actor’s Equity Association


 

REVIEWS

From Time Out Chicago
August 30, 2010

FOUR STARS

Contemporary Irish playwright McPherson, often produced here in recent years, is known for his fancy for bleak characters and long monologues, as demonstrated in works such as Shining City and The Seafarer. I’ve long been a fan of one of McPherson’s earlier plays, The Weir. Written in 1997, when the playwright was 27, it similarly revolves around a set of five monologues. Watching Seanachaí’s expertly directed, perfectly cast revival, though, I was reminded how much this play concerns its five characters’ interactions – not just their dialogue but the act of listening to each other’s stories.

The male regulars of an Irish country pub receive a visitor, a woman named Valerie newly moved from Dublin. The interruption of their routine sparks them to regale her with local-color folktales, which in turn prompts her to share a tale from her own life. Each story that’s told brings its subject matter, and its relationship to its teller, into sharper relief, starting with the most dubious and supernatural and ending with the most personal and concrete. Miller draws every bit of nuance out of his cast, taking a breather at all the appropriate moments. Wellington and Armacost, in the pivotal roles, hit just the right notes, while Smith deftly handles the most reserved. McPherson’s play is ultimately about the importance of community and sharing stories. As one of his characters says, “You have to relish the details.” Seanachaí’s production does so in spades.

 

From the Chicago Sun-Times
August 30, 2010

RECOMMENDED

On a chilly night in a cozy Irish pub, four friends and one stranger form a redemptive circle of friendship through a round of conversation and storytelling.

This is the world of Conor McPherson’s 90-minute comedy-drama “The Weir,” a beautifully written play that 11 years ago jettisoned the then 27-year-old Irish playwright onto Broadway.

First staged locally in 2000 at Steppenwolf Theatre, “The Weir” is being revived by Seanachai Theatre under the direction of Matt Miller. It is the company’s second production in its new permanent home at the Irish American Heritage Center, the perfect base for an ensemble dedicated to all things Irish.

The plot of “The Weir” is homespun. Three pub regulars — 50ish bachelor Jack (Brad Armacost), shy Jim (Jeff Christian) and cocky real estate agent Finbar (Kevin Theis) — and one outsider, Valerie (Sarah Wellington), spend an evening exchanging stories.

Valerie has just moved to town and speculation runs high as to why she would leave Dublin for the quiet countryside. The men compete for her attention by telling stories revolving around the local lore of fairies and ghosts. Bartender Brendan (Brad Smith), who is smitten with Valerie, keeps them fueled with alcohol as the night wears on.

At first glance, McPherson’s play is little more than a series of ghost stories. But there are surprises in the individual stories that uncover deep, hidden truths.

It’s all done with such ease as the narratives flow organically from McPherson’s characters. They begin as Gaelic ghost stories that transform into tales that scrape at the soul and uncover the loss and loneliness that eventually permeate every life.

“The Weir” always owes part of its success to a set designer’s vision. The atmospheric touches have to be just right to move the audience into the total picture. Here the worn pub set by Robert Groth and Jenniffer J. Thusing is perfect in every detail, from the massive bar to the family pictures on the wall and the iron stove around which the storytellers gather.

Director Miller found the perfect actor in Armacost, who gives a standout performance as the likable Jack, a man who has never married and claims he has no regrets. But as his tale unfolds, he clearly does have problems with his solitary life.

Theis is suitably manic as always as Finbar, a man whose mission is to succeed above everyone else. And Wellington carefully etches a woman filled with pain and loss who is trying her best to recover some semblance of happiness.

With this staging, Seanachaí, which means “storyteller” in Gaelic, has added another worthy entry to its growing list of tales that dig at the heart of Irish myth and magic.

 

From the Chicago Tribune
August 30, 2010

It’s a matter of personal preference, I suppose, but I ask you: On a cold night, is there anything better than the cozy embrace of a small, dark watering hole? Human connections can prove elusive, but your barman never lets you down.

A perfectly tiny pub in rural Ireland is the setting for Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” a quietly moving play composed of the kind of personal ghost stories that haunt us all – both real and imagined. Boiled down to its essence, the play is collection of five monologues that mirror the gradual inebriation of its characters. Initially everything seems very much expected and in control, only to slide into territory far hazier than you might have anticipated.

Perhaps you saw the play at the Steppenwolf about 10 years ago. I thought that version was quite good, but the current effort from Seanachai Theatre Company is far more effective in capturing a type of campfire intimacy, and director Matt Miller uses the small-ish confines of Seanachai’s space to the show’s advantage (even if the theater’s air conditioning isn’t quite up to the task). The set from Robert Groth and Jenniffer J. Thusing, with its dark wood tones and old photos on the wall, is evocative enough that you may want to climb in there for a drink yourself.

It is a place frequented mostly by men – middle-age and unattached – but on this blustery night, a young woman arrives. As played by Sarah Wellington, she walks in with a big smile and bright red raincoat and clearly some kind of back story hiding behind her pleasant manners. She’s renting a cottage in the area – running away from something in her previous life, the men surmise – and as each person shares his story, a certain through-line takes shape.

What is a belief in the supernatural, after all, if not an explanation for things that go bump in the night? McPherson’s script takes it a step further, to include all the things that go bump in our minds. Certainly those assembled in the pub have plenty of baggage to go around, and Miller’s cast embodies a believable, lived-in chemistry as longtime neighbors who have forged friendships out of circumstance – their nightly pub stops a brief reprieve from self-imposed isolation.

 

From New City
August 30, 2010

RECOMMENDED

Life’s full of ghosts and their sad stories; some tales are otherworldly, others are awash with regret. “The Weir” captures a good sample of the supernatural, including stories that are frightening because they are all too real.

Irish bar man Brendan (Brad Smith) hosts country bachelors Jack (Brad Armacost) and Jimmy (Jeff Christian) for their daily pints o’ Guinness. When their small-town sharpie mate Finbar (Kevin Theis) brings newcomer Valerie (Sarah Wellington) around to see the sights, the four curry her favor by telling local spook stories, only to be seriously spooked in return.

The ensemble is on top of a tough script filled with demanding monologues. The actors goose the humor with nice, natural touches; Christian’s awkward pauses and over-long eye contact are genius. But the jewel of the evening is Armacost; his mundane tale of love and life squandered is heartbreaking; his pain is very much of this realm.

 

From Chicago Stage Review
October 7, 2010

Most would argue that theater is first and foremost storytelling. If that is true than Conor McPherson’s haunting play The Weir and Seanachaí Theatre Company’s extraordinary production of it represent theater at its finest. I am constantly asked, “What’s the best show playing right now?” Normally this is a tough question, as there are always at least a few standout shows, but without hesitation The Weir is the most intricately compelling and brilliantly delivered play in current production.

Detailed to realistic perfection (by Robert Groth and Jennifer J. Thusing’s exceptional set design) and in the intimate quarters of the Irish American Heritage Center’s 3rd Floor Theatre, you find yourself completely immersed in this evening of casual drinks and stories at a rural Irish pub. You are not watching actors, but rather you are eavesdropping on people so richly rendered that you easily forget that this is a play. This is perhaps the most authentically enthralling ensemble assembled this year.

The night starts out lighthearted enough, as the characters trickle in for their evening pints. McPherson affords them all generous introductions and the acquainting is charming. We are observing nightly routines as much individual people. They are lonely, funny, idiosyncratic and warmhearted, not overly affectionate but still, these are people that you would be very lucky to count as friends. The chemistry is undeniable, heartwarming and riveting. You find yourself wanting to be there in the moment with them, ordering a drink and sharing the laughter and stories.

As is so often the case while drinking with friends, stories start to flow. McPherson writes peculiar monologues with no trace of contrivance and this cast delivers them with no evidence that they came from anywhere but their own lives. The stories start out as colloquial anecdotes, lulling us into a feeling false security, but when the local ghostly lore starts to creep in the mood subtly shift and then builds from eerie to disturbing.

I reviewed a solid production of The Weir a few years ago. What struck me as incredible was the writing but what didn’t work then and brilliantly works now is the change up at the end of the play. The script seemed to dramatically shift gears from a state of fear to an epilogue of sadness. In Seanachai’s production, marvelously directed by Matt Miller, this heartbreakingly touching ending serves to underline the loneliness and longing that is at the plays core. This is so deceptively complex that it proves a daunting task to successfully execute, but Miller guides his gifted cast with an understanding of the material that is as uncanny as the subject matter. Through close personal interactions they create a poignant portrait of individual isolation.

Miller’s dream cast magnificently delivers McPherson’s nightmares without sensational fanfare but to chilling effect. Dialect coach Barbara Zahora’s work with this talented ensemble eliminates any evidence that you are anywhere other than Ireland. The naturalness of their conversation surfaces breathtaking subtleties. As the gentlemen genially compete for attention, the volume of the dialogue rises. Animosities are easily assuaged with another drink, creating a playful ruckus without descending into chaos.

Brad Smith brings a politely quiet strength to his excellent performance of Brendan, the young bartender. Jeff Christian is endearingly awkward as Jim. Kevin Theis brings a wonderfully contrasting bravado into the mix of calm characters as Finbar. Sarah Wellington is simply lovely as Valerie. Valerie starts out as a welcomed visitor but quickly becomes an intricate part of the evening. Watching Wellington warmly take in the attention and develop connection with the other characters is just another beautiful aspect to this completely nuanced ensemble. They are all great listeners, the kind of listeners that silently and without motion fuel the revelations of each tale.

Of all of the many reasons to rush to see this absolute theatrical masterpiece, Brad Armacost’s incomparable performance tops the list. He is a master storyteller, organically captivating and gently commanding. Armacost is picture perfect authenticity on every level as Jack, the most regular of the pub’s regular clientele. He is explosively funny without the slightest hint of grandstanding. Armacost brings staggering levels of quiet dignity and underlying melancholy to his portrayal. His performance and the performance of the entire ensemble are as good as it gets. This production could just as easily be playing on the main stage at Steppenwolf.

Seanachaí Theatre Company’s singularly spellbinding realization of The Weir possesses a subtly mystical chemistry that not only delivers a captivating night of theater, but also lifts the magical realism of Ireland up and out of County Sligo, carries it over the Atlantic and drops it down in the midst of Chicago. Perfect for this ghostly season or anytime, it is a stunning example of the best that Chicago has to offer. DO NOT MISS this extraordinary production.

 

From the Chicago Reader
August 30, 2010

Conor McPherson’s 1997 gab-fest about ghosts and regrets is less impressive than his more recent work, especially 2006’s The Seafarer. But Seanachai Theatre Company’s low-key, handsome production has charm and heart. It takes a while for Matt Miller’s five-member ensemble to find their rural Irish rhythms, but, once they settle in, there’s an old-shoe comfort to their tales–which is then upended by Sarah Wellington’s beautifully rendered revelation of the tragedy that haunts her character, Valerie, a newcomer to town. Brad Armacost initially overplays the stage-Irish qualities of Jack, an aging bachelor, but he pulls together the denouement with sorrowful compassion; Jeff Christian’s mama’s-boy handyman aches with incipient loss and confusion.