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Burning Coal's artistic director, Jerome Davis, has decided to bring back one of the plays he did during the company's early years, Conor McPherson's The Weir. This is a brief little powerhouse of a play that requires a dynamic ensemble cast to create a very realistic and spooky evening of storytelling. The cast has to mesh, because these five characters are both foreign (with accents) and very well known to each other. Four Irishmen who have known each other for years attempt to entertain a new guest in their midst, a young lady from Dublin, a good ways away. They do so by trying to outdo each other telling a spooky story.
Davis sets his play on one of the most realistic sets I have ever seen Burning Coal produce, an old roadside pub owned by Brendan (Jordan Wolfe), the publican. It is strewn with paraphernalia and authentic in every detail. From the working taps and the "ding" of the register to the overhead beams in the ceiling and the dirty red and blue tiles on the floor, set designer Tom Burch has left nothing out.
On this particular evening, there is a howling wind. The play opens with a bit of schtick as a man enters and begins getting the place ready to receive guests. He hangs up his coat, turns on the lights, tries the taps to find they don't work, shifts gears and selects a bottle of stout, pours himself a long one, and takes a long and satisfying pull on it. He then pops open the register and pays for his drink just as Brendan enters from back of the house, which connects to the bar. This is Jack (Simon Kaplan), one of the few regulars at Brendan's place. It is quite possible that Jack is twice Brendan's age, which is about thirty. Jack sports muddy work boots, a pointed beard, and a bald pate, all surrounding a thoroughly likable disposition. He and Brendan talk about the others who will arrive, shortly now, particularly Finbar (David Dossey), a man at least as old as Jack, who has been married for years and is known as "a pillar of the community." He is chief among their discussions because he is sporting a young woman about the township; she has recently moved into the area, for the "peace and quiet." Jack makes much of the notion that Finbar is acting quite the young squire, paying the lass quite a bit of attention and ignoring the other lass who's waiting for him at home.
The howl of the wind announces another patron, Jimmy (Lucius Robinson), who is about Brendan's age and wears a tightly cropped, dark, and full beard and wire-rimmed spectacles. Jimmy is the area's fix-it man, an agreeable and knowledgeable fellow who must tend to his aging mother. Both he and Jack make a point of tending closely to their coin, meting it out carefully at each refill, and making sure that they are paying exactly the right amount. This is not done out of miserliness but of a desire to be sure to be right with their neighbors, and the knowledge that their resources are finite.
Over the howling wind, Jimmy hears a car arriving – though no one else does – and correctly identifies it as Finbar's. Wearing a heavy overcoat and a pair of glasses that seem glued to his face, Finbar has in tow the young lady in question. She wears a warm but not heavy coat, tight-fitting jeans, and sensible flats. This is Valerie (Emily Rieder), arrived from Dublin, who wears a sweet but not inviting smile, and seems genuinely appreciative of the attention she has been generating amongst the locals. The inclusion of Rieder as Valerie is a stroke of genius, because while the men look like any other man living in the Isles, she looks Irish.
The evening progresses very much like any other evening at Brendan's. But as these five people interact, we see the exerted effort of all these men to make sure that this newest member of their circle is made welcome, and it is clear that their care is appreciated, as Valerie feels comfortable enough among these strangers to tell a particularly disturbing tale of her own.
These five characters, under the able direction of Jerome Davis, lead us gently and gladly through an evening filled with local color. This is a little slice of Ireland that you can take home with you and keep in your pocket to look at from time to time. In a land that is often noted for its population of the "wee people," we learn, in a varied and complex way, that it is possible that things happen in Ireland that don't happen in other parts of the world, simply because the inhabitants know better than to dismiss them as "ghost stories."
The Weir continues through Sunday, December 16. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.