It's easy to see why The Weir, opening tonight at the Walter Kerr Theatre, was recently voted a place in the Royal National Theatre's Survey of the Twentieth-Century Most Significant Plays. The original London production won the 1997 Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright Award for its author, Conor McPherson, and on its move to a West End house, the 1999 Olivier Award for Best New Play, along with an Olivier Award for Best Supporting Performance for Brendan Coyle.
The Weir is a darkly magical, lyrical little play with no plot to speak of beyond the transforming effects of the spoken word. Many spoken words to be specific, along with notable moments when the characters simply stare into the future or pause to listen to the wind blowing outside the shabby tavern in remote North-West Ireland in which, for an hour and a half, a small group of people meet and tell stories.
At first it's just small talk among the men involving little more than the windy weather and a broken tractor. The gossip quickly turns to the subject of Finbar, who has sold a house to a woman named Valerie. When the pair arrives at the bar a few moments later, we begin to see glimpses of sexual interest and rivalry among the men, who we will learn have no history of satisfactory lasting relationships. But they and the genial, slightly lecherous Finbar hardly have time for more than a few roguish comments before the play makes a subtle turn into deeper waters, when a ghostly incident which occurred at the house Valerie just bought is mentioned.
Each in turn tells a story; tales that, as the evening progresses, become deep, rich, eloquent and revealing. Small mysteries evolve into eerie astonishments and braggadocio soars into liberating confessions of love, loss, and loneliness. We sense we are being given a brief glimpse of the soul of an old, repressed Ireland as personified by these characters, and it's a profoundly emotional experience.
The Weir is much more dramatic than it first appears, and funny too. For what is at its heart a serious play, it has more good, solid belly laughs than many recent comedies. Astonishingly well crafted, it remains focused on and lets us believe so completely in the characters that at any given moment we feel we know what each character is thinking and feeling. Higher praise than that I cannot offer. Kieran Ahern, Brendan Coyle, Dermot Crowley, Michelle Fairley, and Jim Norton bring a new, refreshingly solid meaning to the phrase "ensemble acting," in as fine a display of understated, interdependent performances as we are likely to see in this or any other season.
The direction, by Ian Rickson, is precise, effective, and impressive. The set and costumes, by Rae Smith, are wondrously appropriate. The lighting, by Paule Constable, and sound, by Paul Arditti, add more than their fair share to the delights of this show.
The Weir, by Conor McPherson, directed by Ian Rickson, set and costume design by Rae Smith, lighting design by Paule Constable, and sound design by Paul Arditti. Starring Kieran Ahern, Brendan Coyle, Dermot Crowley, Michelle Fairley, and Jim Norton.
Running time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Theatre: Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway & 8th Avenue)
Tickets: $60 The price will include an additional $1 Restoration charge, per ticket, for the restoration and preservation of the theatre.
Dates and times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 P.M., Wednesday and Saturday at 2 P.M. (No Wednesday matinees April 7 through May 26.) Sunday at 3 P.M. April 11 through June 13. Sunday at 7 P.M. April 11 through May 30. Beginning June 16, Monday at 8 P.M.
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 11 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 8 P.M., Sunday Noon to 6 P.M.
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge (212) 239-6200, or outside the NY metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets online: NetTiks at http://www.telecharge.com/
Tickets by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets by snail mail: The Weir, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998.
Standing room: Available only at the Box Office on the day of performance and only when the show is sold out.