Theatre Banshee’s captivating production of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s intimate one-acter proves there is potentially more tangible eerieness within a quietly told ghost story than in the sound and fury of any spook pic. Winner of the 1999 Olivier Award for best play on London’s West End, this deceptively simple tale follows the nightly ritual of the regulars at a local pub in a remote area in the West of Ireland, whose normal routine is upset by the arrival of a young woman from Dublin. Helmer Sean Branney guides an excellent five-member cast through every nuance of the shifting dynamics as each man vies to make an impression on this attractive stranger.
The action is perfectly framed within Arthur MacBride’s beautifully wrought set that evokes the atmosphere of a well-worn local hangout that has hosted millions of rounds of Guinness, lubricating endless nights of aimless “craic” (chat). The talk and longtime camaraderie among barkeep Brendan (Douglas Leal), local workman Jim (Dan Harper) and aging garage owner Jack (Barry Lynch) has no other purpose than to fill the space between gulps.
McPherson’s dialogue is deliciously inconsequential, and Branney wisely eases the audience into the cadence of the banter: Brendan is annoyed that his visiting sisters are after him to sell off a bit of the family property; Jack is mildly mortified that the pub’s Guinness dispenser is out of order, and he must get his brew out of a bottle; Jim, who is saddled with a sick mother at home, is simply glad to flow with the glow of his friends, chatting about the chilly storm that appears to be settling in and agreeing to help Jack with some auto maintenance the next morning.
Scripter McPherson is merely setting up the drama that will unfold when overly cheerful Finbar (Andrew Leman), a local lad who has achieved a modicum of financial success, arrives with Valerie (Leslie Baldwin), a handsome but quiet-spoken woman to whom he has just sold a house in the village.
The men know the house very well, and soon the conversation turns to their collective memory of a ghostly happening in the house that occurred long ago. Almost as a way of introducing himself to her, each man is then motivated to recount an ethereal incident from his own past. McPherson saves the best for last, however, when the somberly attentive Valerie unveils the horrific experience with the supernatural that has led her to seek out the solitude of the village.
The ensemble engulfs the dialogue within their richly detailed characterizations. Lynch (a founding member of the Celtic Arts Center) is perfect as the cantankerous Jack, a lifelong bachelor who regrets every day of his life the youthful foolishness that lost him his one true love. Baldwin travels the gamut of emotions as she segues seamlessly from polite audience to hypnotizing storyteller, relating her chilling tale as if it were being ripped from the depths of her soul.
Harper is endearing as Jim, a goodhearted pub pal who has never developed all the faculties necessary to become a complete being on his own. There is an effecting aura of sadness surrounding Leal’s portrayal of Brendon, who is more than burdened by his responsibilities in life. Leman is a hoot as doltish, florid-faced Finbar, blatantly proud of his success but lacking the nerve to act on his impulse to make a move on Valerie.
Complementing the proceedings are the evocative costumes of Laura Brody. The wind-swept sounds of Eric Hockman/Clayton Tripp give ample evidence of the inhospitable environment that surrounds this quintet of needy souls within the womblike comfort of the pub.