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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Weir
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Anything Goes and Wittenberg

Michael Fleck, Steven Fajardo, Amanda Melby, and Tom Koelbel
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Conor McPherson's 1997 play The Weir documents the conversations and reminiscences that the patrons of a pub in Northwest Ireland have one evening. Five people, including four men who have known each other almost their entire lives, plus a woman who has just moved to town, tell stories of their past, many of which have a ghost story element to them. It is a masterfully written play that focuses more on the power of storytelling and the shared experience of good company and less on plot and character development. Yet it also centers on loss and the shared community that strangers form when living in a remote area. While the creative elements detract somewhat from the play, Theatre Artists Studio's production features a talented cast and steady direction. McPherson's smart script and interesting characters result in an effective journey through the terror of the unknown while also demonstrating how the comfort of friends can help one get through life.

Set in Brendan's pub, the patrons include Jack and Jim, two local single men, and Finbar, a married estate agent who has brought Valerie, a new woman who has just recently moved to town, to the bar. While Finbar's exact interest in Valerie isn't clearly known, it is her presence at the pub that prompts the telling of the ghostly stories since the house she bought sparks a story about a "fairy road" that passes through the house that she just purchased. Over ninety minutes the patrons tell their tales as Valerie pays attention, yet it is a very personal story that she tells that is the most heartbreaking.

McPherson uses the ghost stories the characters tell to build upon each other with an increasing emotional relevance and power. He writes realistic dialogue for these conversations between friends, both old and new, and the play creates an environment that allows each audience member to be a fly on the wall of the bar overhearing these conversations. While none of the stories are overly scary, there is a chilly spookiness in them.

Director Carol MacLeod gets fine performances from her cast, all of whom are skilled in the requisite storytelling aspects of their parts. Michael Fleck relishes the details of the stories he tells and there is a vibrant and buoyant sense of life that he brings to the part of Jack. While all of the characters in the play exhibit a sense of loneliness, it is Jack's final story, which isn't a ghost story at all, that is especially poignant and Fleck delivers a well-rounded portrayal. As Valerie, Amanda Melby is appropriately quiet at first, yet respectful with these strangers she has just met. When Valerie tells her story, Melby's focused delivery is expert in keeping her fellow pub patrons, and the audience, on the edge of their seats as they wait to hear the story that brought Valerie to this remote part of Ireland. Melby delivers a poignant and moving portrayal. Tom Koelbel, Brad Bond, and Steve Fajardo deliver fine performances as Finbar, Jim, and Brendan, respectively.

While there is nothing amateurish about Deborah Mather Boehm's set design and Stacey Walston's lighting, they both are a bit at odds with the play. Boehm's beautiful, modern and sterile bar looks lovely, but it resembles a recently updated bar that one would find in the high priced area of Dublin or London, not in a remote part of Ireland. Walston's bright lighting is professional but, like the set design, doesn't always gel with the stories, since it never evokes or even complements that spooky nature of the ghostly tales. Maybe MacLeod was trying to let the stories stand alone against a blank canvas, but these creative elements are just too sterile for the sad, emotional, and moving stories at the center of the play. Also, while Julie VanLith's dialect coaching provides realistic Irish accents, some of the actors aren't quite consistent throughout. Fortunately, McPherson's words, the characters he has created, and the theme of the play show how the company that is formed within a community is able to help, in even a small way, to heal life's tragedies—more than off-setting any creative elements that detract from that message.

The Weir is a play in which very little happens, so those who prefer a decent amount of plot may be a bit put off by its slow going, storytelling nature. Theatre Artists Studio's production has a gifted cast and clear direction that expertly portray the dramatic nature of the tales and the many emotional levels the characters exhibit.

"We'll all be ghosts soon enough" is something that Jack says toward the end of the play. But hearing these ghostly stories and spending ninety minutes with these five characters and the hope and healing that this small group of people are able to provide each other doesn't make that statement seem so scary at all.

The Weir at Theatre Artists Studio runs through March 13th, 2016, with performances at 4848 East Cactus Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are on sale at or by calling 602.765.0120

Written by Conor McPherson
Director: Carol MacLeod
Set Designer: Deborah Mather Boehm
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Props: Susan Back & Deb Boehm
Dialect Coach: Julie VanLith

Cast (in order of appearance): Jack: Michael Fleck* Brendan: Steve Fajardo Jim: Brad Bond Valerie: Amanda Melby* Finbar: Tom Koelbel

* Member, Actors' Equity Association

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