Sunday, March 03, 2002

The Weir (Ensemble)

The Weir slow moving at Ensemble

The Irish are known for many things. Outstanding among them is their ability to spin a tale. Talking and drinking are close runner-ups. Thus, it is no surprise that Conor McPherson’s play 'THE WEIR,' which was the winner of two 1998 Olivier Awards including Best New Play, takes place in a bar and concerns the telling of tales and lots of talk and drinking.

The plot line centers on the arrival of a mysterious outsider to a rural area set in traditions, where little new or exciting ever takes place. She brings with her a search for a new lease on life and breaks the tedium of the pub regulars. Drinking ensues and the barroom chat soon becomes a series of local legends and distressing tales. Supposedly, the play was inspired by the author’s visits to the small town of Leitrim to see her granddad.

When it opened in Philadelphia, on its way to becoming a Broadway hit, one reviewer said, “'THE WEIR' does what all good stories do: effectively transports the audience to another world that seems both far, far away and simultaneously right around the corner from home.”

I’m not sure what the Broadway or Philadelphia reviewer saw, but that’s the not the play being produced on the Ensemble stage. Local viewers are exposed to a very, very talky play, with little action, in which the stories, with one exception, lack the intrigue to hold attention.

Maybe the difference between here and there were the production qualities. But that can’t account totally for the obvious boredom of the audience. All of the actors on the Ensemble stage were competent, if not spell binding. The exception was Meg Kelly, playing Valerie, the mysterious outsider. She was excellent, especially while telling her tale, the reason she needed to come to this forsaken outpost to get away from the real world. That’s not to say that Bernard Canepari, John Kolibob, Steven Vasse-Hansell and Charles Karali were bad. They weren’t. Their Irish accents, thanks to Kartali’s dialect coaching were right on. They developed clear characterizations, though they generally failed to keep the pace fast enough, and the stories entrancing enough, to grab the viewers.

Special attention should be paid to Ron Newell for his wonderful set and Croby Grubb who selected appropriate Irish music to set the proper mood.

Capsule judgement: In retrospect, why this script was awarded two of the prestigious Olivier Awards continues to mystify. No matter the production qualities, there just wasn’t enough there to make this a prize winner.