Omaha’s enduring Circle Theatre offers a well-acted and capably directed, thoroughly polished production of The Weir, Conor McPherson’s widely praised and performed 1997 play.Make no mistake, this Irish stuff comes full of gab and not much else. It lacks important plot developments and earnest drama. Nonetheless, the cast carries it off with constant believability and skillful accents. True, what they say and how they say it at times could leave you in the dark as to meanings but the gist of it all comes across, illuminated colorfully and clearly. In fact, one actor, Michael Markey, lights up the stage full of vitality and personality.
Essentially this is a gathering of five people of an evening in a small pub in a small town in Ireland . Amid abundant alcohol, but without any evident effects from so much to drink, they get around to telling stories with what seem like supernatural elements, stories close to their own lives and locale. Jack is there. He’s a somewhat older garage owner and car mechanic, gossiping with pub owner Brendan, and with Jim, Jack’s assistant. Soon they are joined by local businessman, Finbar, and a recent arrival in town, Valerie.
Valerie’s presence becomes the stimulus for the multiple narratives. But she also has her own to unfold.
All of this happens while, according to the dialogue, a fierce wind surges outside. But director Michele Phillips, despite perceptive staging, only calls for tiny gusts when doors open to the outside. Surely such an element should get more emphasis, the wind being an important presence which could give an extra intensity to how the people inside might cling together for comfort or, equally, feel spooked.
In fact, the play has more potential for scariness than she achieves, and that could have made this a more likely Halloween offering. After all, these people speak about the kinds of things which could send chills up and down the spine, especially on a windy night. But her cast’s playing is most often vigorous and friendly rather than hushed and solemn, as if they don’t much fear the paranormal. Performing that way, in a darker place, could add extra dimensions to a script which needs as much drama as possible, given that it consists almost entirely of conversation without any major action.
Nonetheless all of the cast carries off a sense of real people in a real place. Markey as Finbar especially seems thoroughly appealing, with a totally natural sense of a love of life. And Cullen Chollet’s version of Jim comes across with a fine sense of gentle sincerity. The excellent set by Ben Berkholtz, adds to the substance.
Personally I don’t find this to all that great a play, despite its reputation. And the uninterrupted one hour 40 minutes running time made it feel especially heavy going. More inventive directing could possibly add enough dimension to make it look as if it has more to offer. But that would be a major task for everyone involved in the production.
FYI, the weir of the title seems basically irrelevant, although some writers interpret the reference as having symbolic significance.
You might want to know that this is my first visit to Circle Theatre, being new to Omaha. And, knowing nothing about the group, I discovered online that it has thrived for over 28 years and been in Central Presbyterian Church since January 2000. More info: http://circletheatreomaha.org.
Upon arriving, having learned that pre-dinner can be part of the experience, I was surprised to see that all the seating was at six-person tables. And the 20 or so people present were permitted to go on with their desserts even after the actors had taken the stage. Moreover, when Artistic Director Doug Marr addressed everyone pre-curtain, there was casual by-play with him, including someone telling him that what he said was not clearly understood. This certainly felt like the evening would turn into amateur night in community theatre. But the professional polish of the whole performance soon made it clear that Circle Theater deserves the support it gets from Nebraska Arts Council, Nebraska Cultural Endowment, and its loyal audience. Now if only Doug Marr’s program notes included information about the source of the play, the author of this famed offering, such an evening would be more professional. FYI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conor_McPherson.
The Weir continues through November 2 at Circle Theatre at Central Presbyterian Church, 726 S. 55th Street, Omaha. 7 p.m. dinner and show $16-$25. 8 p.m. show only $10-$15. More info at http://circletheatreomaha.orgor 402. 553.4715.