Playwright: Brian Friel. At: City Lit Theatre at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr. Phone: 773-293-3682; $25, Runs Through: Oct. 3
Playwright: Conor McPherson. At: Seanachaí Theatre Company at the Irish-American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox. Phone: 866-811-4111; $22. Runs through: Oct. 3
Whether the result of its climate or its religion, Ireland has always been prey to a pessimistic gloom underlying even its jubilant moments. But two concurrent productions offer glimpses into this contradictory culture pointing toward its redemption, however slow.
Brian Friel's 1968 Lovers recounts two tales of courtship: the first, ironically titled "Winners," introduces a pair of ill-met teenagers whose impending marriage is fortuitously prevented by their untimely deaths ( suicide pact, or homicide à deux? ) , while "Losers" is a comical look at a middle-aged couple whose marital accord is likewise thwarted by parental authority. ( At age 40, they still stifle the sounds of their snogging, lest their manipulative mum interrupt with pious disapproval. ) It's all enough to make you jump off a bridge, but the cast assembled by City Lit director Terry McCabe to portray our multiple generations of frustrated wooers delves the stubborn denial and stoical humor long serving Friel's real-life counterparts, sustaining our curiosity before the inevitable disappointment as the status quo reigns triumphant.
It's a leap for peer-oriented urban U.S. artists to empathize with Conor McPherson's peoplecitizens dwelling in rural isolation, where the local pub is the community's social center and swapping oft-repeated stories, lubricated by a steady ( but not necessarily excessive ) flow of alcohol, the chief recreational activity. But with each new production of The Weir since its premiere in 1997, we get it just a little bit more.
With a text long on talk and short on action, close attention must be maintained if we are to appreciate the gradual progress from eerie adventures recounted at a safe distance to those rooted in personal exigency. The Seanachaí troupe has forged its reputation on sensitivity to this brand of intimate rapport, drawing us into the subtle dynamics of four loners extending comfort to a strangerplayed with just the right measure of strung-out vulnerability by Sarah Wellingtonin dire need of companionship. Under Matt Miller's direction, surrounded by Robert Groth and Jenniffer J. Thusing's cozy country-tavern decor, this is ensemble performance at its purest and best.