Following in the steps of Synge and Friel, yet another generation of Irish storytellers has been sired in Conor McPherson, whose play “The Weir” settled into a short run at Toronto’s du Maurier World Stage Festival with all but one of its original London cast intact (Des McAleer has replaced Gerard Horan as the upwardly mobile businessman Finbar).
The production has fared well in its transfer to the intimate du Maurier Theater Center; it is focused and utterly compelling, turning the smallest gesture into poetry. And if not every accent is entirely up to scratch, that’s a small blemish in an otherwise perfect gem of a show.
The setting is familiar to Irish drama: a smoky, run-down bar in a windswept country town, where Celtic folklore and harsh working-class pragmatism rub against each other. Three locals have dropped by for a nightly ritual of “a small one” and a pint, each settling comfortably into his assigned role in this tiny social milieu.
In this very traditionally structured play, each is a stock character — the laconic bar owner (Brendan Coyle), the chatty, occasionally abrasive old man (Jim Norton), the timid type (Kieran Ahern) saddled with his battle-ax of a mother, and the local boy made good — but in McPherson’s superbly nuanced play , stock merely means recognizable, not old hat. Even their blarney, full of ghosts and goblins — and booze — pierces through the obvious macho guises.
As soon as newcomer-to-town Valerie (Julia Ford) enters the bar with Finbar, the tale-spinning competition for her attention begins. But where a similar urban plotline would be full of threat, “The Weir” is almost whimsical, even softly romantic in the innocence of these oblique courtships cloaked as winsome and increasingly ghostly yarns. Even the underlying resentment against Finbar that occasionally erupts cannot break the spell — until Valerie finally tells her own story; when fairy tale evolves into grim reality, there is a haunting breakthrough to a shared pain and mutual recognition.
In its stylistic simplicity and integrity, “The Weir” reveals acute truths about the games we play to protect ourselves and hide the pain of living. It strikes where the best of storytellers take aim — deep inside the imagination and the heart.