Dramaworks the perfect fit for engrossing 'The Weir'
On a rain-swept night, four lonely men are drinking whiskey and swapping stories in a rural Irish pub when in walks a mysterious outsider, a comely woman ... with a secret. The mystery woman has just rented a house down the road, a house that's believed to be haunted. The men begin telling ghost stories, each one more disturbing than the next. After several stories and a few surprising personal revelations, five lives will have changed. Forever. That's the intriguing set-up for Conor McPherson's The Weir, a well-received play first staged in 1997 at The Royal Court Theater Upstairs in London. The show would later move to Broadway. Now The Weir is making its South Florida debut tonight at Palm Beach Dramaworks. J. Barry Lewis, the company's resident director, first saw The Weir when it was playing in London. He always remembered how well the show played in a small, 45-seat theater. "That really caught my attention," Lewis recalls. "Here was a play that was originally performed in an intimate space similar to our space (Dramaworks' theater seats 84 people) and I thought the show lent itself to the intimacy we have here." Lewis later saw the show, which in 1999 won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, in a 900-seat theater in New York. His experience was totally different. "It didn't feel like you were participating in that pub with those characters," Lewis says. Those characters are Brendan (Declan Mooney), the pub owner who's searching for answers in his life; Jim (Karl Hanover), a 40-year-old who takes care of his elderly mom and who has also been unlucky in love; Jack (Frank Converse), a grumpy older man who runs a garage and who also has numerous failed relationships on his personal résumé; and Finbar (Dennis Creaghan), a guy who inherited money, moved to the big city and lost his way in the process. Into their lives comes Valerie (Lean Kaminsky), a woman who serves as a life-changing catalyst for the four men. But, as Lewis points out, Valerie is also carrying some heavy baggage. "She too has a story to share, an event in her life that caused her to stop and to rethink where she is and who she is and how she's going to move forward," he says. "All of the characters are in search of something. Something in their lives is not complete." For McPherson, who was born in Dublin, The Weir is a deeply personal work. "He's from that little area where the play takes place," Lewis says. "He used to go back as a young man and sit around the fireplace and listen to his grandfather tell stories about the area." It would be easy to label The Weir as a "ghost story," but Lewis says that's not completely accurate. "The stories they tell are not so much ghost stories in the way we think of ghost stories," he says. "They're unexplained supernatural events that have occurred and that they have no answers for." Although there is some humor in the show, Lewis admits the play is intense. "The stories become more and more personal and they are eerie at times," he says. Running themes in the show are loneliness and loss and what kind of impact they have on a person's life. "Conor is trying to say you have to be careful you don't get lost in the past and that you must come to terms with the present so you can move forward in the future," Lewis says. "It sounds simple enough, right?"