By Sarah Downs
It is said that the sound of wind constantly blowing can drive one mad. On the lonely Irish coastline, with its secrets and craggy hideaways, you can well believe it.
On an evening like any other, pub regulars Jack (Dan Butler) and Jim (John Keating) have stopped by their local for a pint. As Brendan (Tim Ruddy), pours their drinks, they while away the hour in banter – about everything and nothing at all, their half sentences a kind of shorthand born of long familiarity. The ever-present wind whistles in the background. Momentarily kept at bay by a warm stove and conversation it is nonetheless their constant companion. In that sound you can sense the night outside, and the emptiness of this isolated town with its dark streets and ocean cliffs.
The big news is the arrival in town of an exotic character — a woman has come all the way from Dublin to live in old Maura Nelson’s house, which has lain empty for years. As they speculate as to her reason for moving from the big city to this desolate corner of Ireland, Finbar (Sean Gormley) who has been showing her the town, brings Valerie (Amanda Quaid) in to introduce her to the pub. The men light up like the boys they once were. They automatically feel protective of Valerie. Their talk moves from local sights and jests, particularly at Finbar’s expense, ribbing him about his financial success. He is the owner of an hotel in a busier part of town, and the only of them who has married. In an odd diversion, the men begin to express their sympathy for the fate of young girls who marry older men – men who have lived alone so long they have no sense of themselves, who keep a pot of stew simmering on the stove nigh and day; old men in filthy houses. Jack, Jim and Finbar paint a poignant, indelible and disturbing portrait of life in the countryside. In contrast to that bleak prospect, they move on to the cheery subject of ghost stories, wrapping the pub in a cloak of shadows and inchoate thoughts. Before they realize it, the men have revealed an unexpected aspect of themselves.
Has time stood still? Has the wind stopped the clock? We feel suspended in the moment as the supernatural stories hang in the air.
I found myself drawn in by the simplicity and honesty of the performances. As Jack, Dan Butler is all bluster and prickly joviality, yet one sees glimmers of sadness behind the smile. He teases Brendan, whose gentle solidity Tim Ruddy portrays effortlessly. Sean Gormley, as the town success story wears his self-confidence lightly, almost a bit guiltily. When he moves into his own tale of the supernatural, however, all else falls away. Gormley weaves quite a spell.
As Jim, John Keating has a charming, almost birdlike quality. Eccentric and sweet, Jim is a bit of a cipher. His life has been limited, but he seems to bear no resentment. Amanda Quaid as Valerie possesses a lovely stillness, a patience that veils the burning of banked emotional embers. She is a woman whose subtlety captures your attention.
The bittersweet tenor of the play stays with you long after curtain. Despite the otherworldly tone of the ghostly memories, a sturdy little ribbon of good-natured persistence runs throughout. They may talk about their dreams, but these men don’t live in a dreamworld that blinds them to the banality of their common existence. Then again, banality is real, reassuringly so. Like the wind over the cliffs, it is something they can depend on.
It was wonderful seeing actors perform, and in real time, despite each being broadcast from a separate physical space from one another. Indeed, I felt quite emotional about it and had to step back a little before writing. Otherwise I’d just keep repeating: “I’m so happy; I want to cry; I miss theater; thank you for beautiful performances; I want to cry; did I say that already?” Well, indeed, thank you, Irish Repertory for reaching out with this lovely performance. It gave me hope, and hope is all in the end.
The Weir by Conor McPherson; directed by Ciarán O’Reilly; with Dan Butler, Sean Gormley, John Keating, Tim Ruddy, and Amanda Quaid. Scenic design by Charlie Corcoran, sound design by M. Florian Staab. Presented by The Irish Repertory Theatre, Charlotte Moore, Artistic Director. THROUGH JULY 25. See the other online offerings HERE.