Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Matchbox Theater did a wonderful job of bringing The Weirto life. It takes place over the course of 90 minutes in a rural Irish pub, where four men who have known each other for decades gather. Director Doug Stewart blended together its depiction of lives burned with regrets, resigned to the patterns of the past, and a small bit of hope that maybe the luck can still change. This stew is overladen with ghost stories, personal experiences shared over multiple rounds of drinks (I lost count of the number of refills) that suggest there is something special, perhaps even supernatural, about the lives that we take to be ordinary.
The four in question here are Brendan, the pub's proprietor and the youngest of the lot; Jack, the oldest and thirstiest of the group who runs the auto repair shop passed on by his father; hapless Jim, who works Jack's shop and still lives with his old mum; and Finbar, the only one of the four who left their town to make good. Finbar now operates a quality inn and restaurant and is the only one of the men who is married. This does not stop him from arriving at the pub this evening with a lovely young woman on his arm.
The woman, a Dubliner named Valerie, recently arrived in the county for reasons yet unknown. The men attempt to one-up one another over matters of no consequence, as only those who know each other too well can, all the while keeping Brendan busy replenishing their drinks. Fueled by liquor, one thing leads to another and Jack, Finbar and Jim each in turn tell the tale of a ghostly encounterone of them in the very home Valerie is now occupying. When she leaves to use the ladies room, the men berate one another for telling such frightening tales, no doubt upsetting the delicate lady. But upon her return she tells a ghostly story of her own, the most disturbing of all.
Stewart assembled a terrific cast for this ensemble piece. Thom Pinault held center court as Jack, the first and last to speak, who represents the frittering away of hope and opportunity, couched in a patina of wit and charm, always a twinkle in his eyeand voluminous drink. Pinault portrayed the slow but steady progression from sober to sloppy drunk as well as I have ever seen on stage. Paul Somers was Finbar, ostensibly Jack's nemesis, though the two clearly are bonded by their shared experience of being part of the town's folklore. Somers depicted Finbar's confidence and refined manners, though he still enjoys having laughs with the old boys.
Philip C. Matthews bestowed on Brendan the solid footing of the man who must still be standing at night's end, who shoulders responsibility to keep the place from sliding into bedlam. When encouraged that he is still young and should be seeking a young lady, Matthews casts off a disbelief, as if he dare not hope for anything resembling happiness to step forward. David Schlosser played Jim as good hearted and a bit simple. Schlosser let us see that Jim's continued living with his aging mother is as much out of devotion to her as the reality that he would have nowhere else to go. Jamie White Jachimiec was perfectly cast as Valerie, quiet and agreeable in the company of this rowdy quartet, almost like an anthropologist enjoying a good look at the natives, then suddenly revealing a depth of pain and sorrow, becoming vulnerable in ways that were completely unexpected.
Aside from solid performances all around, all five actors delivered their lines with excellent accents that never sounded forced. The four men all evoked the more country dialect of their west Ireland country, while Jachimiec, as Valerie, had the notably more refined articulation of a Dubliner.
The physical production was modest but served its purpose completely. Stewart and Meg Smith designed a totally serviceable setting, a pub that looked as comfortable to its habitués as their own parlors, and costumes that reflected that state of mind of each of the five characters. Jacob Gold modulated the lighting to raise the intensity of the ghost story sequences and provided a soundscape of ceaseless wind, as if this pub were a bastion guarding those inside from the capricious forces of nature.
The sad story of this review is that my original performance was cancelled, because of the logistical challenge of preparing the theater space which is shared with a Tai Kwan Do studio, and I was unable to reschedule before the final weekend, so by the time you read this, Matchbox's run of The Weir will have ended.
Nonetheless, here are two recommendation for you moving forward. First, The Weir is a good, albeit slight, play. It is well worth seeing when it surfaces again, as it undoubtedly will, especially in the hands of a top notch cast under the grip of a strong director. And for my second recommendation: Matchbox Theater is new player on the Twin Cities theater scene. Last month they presented a well-mounted production of the one-man play Einstein: A Stage Portrait, but for all intents and purposes that was a touring show. The Weir is wholly produced by Matchbox, and if this is a sampling of the caliber of their work, it's a company well worth watching.
The Weir played October 5, 2017 - October 28, 2017, at The Matchbox Theater, 5401 ½ Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. For information contact www.thematchboxtheater.com.
Playwright: Conor McPherson; Producer and Director: Douglas Stewart; Set Design: Meg Smith and Douglas Stewart; Lighting and Sound Design: Jacob Gold; Stage Manager: Ava Spooner;
Cast: Jamie White Jachimiec (Valerie), Philip C. Matthews (Brendan), Thom Pinault (Jack), David Schlosser (Jim), and Paul Somers (Finbar).