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THEATER REVIEW The Weir
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2016-12-28

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Playwright: Conor McPherson. At: Irish Theatre of Chicago at The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: $26-$30. Runs through: Jan. 22

Our locale is a tavern in rural Ireland, close enough to seaside Ulster counties to attract summer vacationers, but this is not the nostalgic-mythic Ireland beloved of tourists.

Pubkeeper Brendan may live on the premises—indeed, own the surrounding farmland—but his customers are equipped with modern accoutrements like cars and telephones. To be sure, Valerie, the lone woman among the regulars on this off-season night, is a city girl—hence her chic ski pants and high-heeled boots—escorted by real-estate agent Finbar, from whom she has just purchased a nearby house. Upon their arrival, local tradesmen Jack and Jim proceed to entertain their new neighbor with shivery tales of the region's paranormal activity.

Conor McPherson's play premiered in 1997, but audiences—and actors too, for that matter—are still puzzling over a text seemingly composed of nothing more than five selections from its author's stockpile of monologues. The men engage in some male-bonding horseplay, but overt flirtation is not the province of bachelors who care for aged mothers, nor does Valerie's arrival presage any changes in the social order beyond wine being served at the front bar and the ladies' lavatory being rendered functional. Theatergoers anticipating violent action or cataclysmic plot reversals, however, will be blinding themselves to the dynamic in progress.

Our first story, you see, is Jack's third-hand account of unexplained noises witnessed by a long-dead ancestor. Our second is Finbar's anecdote of a spectral sighting by a personal acquaintance—an incident having an influential effect on his own life. The third is Jim's first-hand recollection of having, himself, encountered a revenant spirit. None of the gallant raconteurs—who are quick to suggest possible rationales for the eerie occurrences, lest they frighten their guest—are prepared to hear the circumstances driving Valerie to seek a ghost-friendly environment, though. Some are discomfited by her revelation, but ultimately, Jack and Brendan assure her that she is not the only one in the room to be haunted by regret-inspired visions.

Irish Theater of Chicago lives up to its baptismal name of "Seanachai" ( Gaelic for "storyteller" ) under the deft direction of Siiri Scott, who ensures that no moment is wasted in actorly posturing nor any narrative advancement rushed to its conclusion ( despite the performance time spanning a mere 90 minutes ). Three of the cast members—Sarah Wellington, Jeff Christian and Brad Armacost—reprise their roles from the company's 2010 production, joined by Bradley Grant Smith and Dan Waller ( the latter growing nicely into character parts ). On dark winter nights when winds howl and restless souls walk, playgoers will find welcome refuge in this shabby oasis tucked into Wicker Park's Den Theater.


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