The Folding Chair Theatre Company presents a thoughtful, engaging production of The Weir by Connor McPherson at the Access Theatre. Ably directed in a simple loft space by Marcus Geduld, this poetic piece unfolds at the leisurely pace of bar talk among seasoned drinkers. Four men and a woman gather in a bar. The woman, Valerie (Lisa Blankenship), arrives last with Finbar (Richard Ryan Cowden), who is showing her the sights of this small village where she has moved. The bar, run by Brendan (Ian Gould), a gathering place for tourists during summer, is hanging on during the rest of the year thanks to a few regulars who gather there. As Valerie arrives, the regulars engage in a round of telling ghost stories that are woven from popular lore and personal experiences. Finally Valerie offers here own, painfully personal story, which moves the men to accept her as one of their own, offering friendship and comfort, along with copious amounts of beer and whiskey.
McPherson’s play is much like a shaggy dog story – entertaining if you get into the spirit, without amounting to too much in the end. But the telling, broken up as much by the drinking rituals as by interruptions where the characters reveal their pasts, their aspirations and their personalities, makes it easy to get drawn into its small world. The audience becomes eavesdroppers to this vanishing world where folklore still lives.
The Folding Chair Theatre, true to its name, presents the play in a simple setting: a few props, the characters appropriately dressed, candles placed around the large stage in an open loft space suggesting the flickering of swamp lights, the set otherwise lit with a few light bulbs and lamps placed on the set, create the apt atmosphere. The one sound effect is a howling wind whenever the door is opened. (No designers are credited in the program). The play opens with Brendan turning on lamps, cleaning tables, dusting frames of photos on the wall, his turning the lamps off closes it. These simple actions make us feel part of the place, invite us in, and indeed the audience, at the end of the play, is asked to step up to the bar for a pint or a short one.
Geduld’s staging is thoughtful and makes the best use of the space, while giving the actors room to let their characters evolve. The actors, using Irish accents that to my ear sound close enough if not perfect, are all excellent, well suited each to their roles.
A small play, without pretensions beyond its open-ended pointing to the possibilities of mysteries that may be part of our existence, The Weir could be dismissed as lightweight, but in this rendition it offers a lovely evening in the theater that leaves one with a smile and a longing for a boilermaker or at least a pint of Guinness.