Captivating tales from an Irish bar

In ‘The Weir’ at Tacoma Little Theatre, you’ll sit in on four working-class friends as an outsider joins their ranks

Contributing writerNovember 8, 2013 

The cast of “The Weir”: Robert McConkey as Brendan, from left, Brian Wayne Jensen as Jim, David Wright as Jack, Ellen Peters as Valerie and Gabriel McClelland as Finbar.

COURTESY OF DK PHOTOGRAPHY

This was not a typical review.

I attended a rehearsal for “The Weir,” which opens Friday night at Tacoma Little Theatre. The set was not yet in place. They rehearsed on the set for past production “Steel Magnolias,” and one of the actors, David Wright, was still on book because he was a late replacement for another actor in the role of Jack, who has more lines than any other actor in the play.

But despite these difficulties in seeing what the play may look like with full set and lighting, I was mightily impressed.

The five-person cast and Pug Bujeaud’s direction were exemplary. Wright was particularly impressive. His Irish brogue was great and he brought the crotchety old Jack to life with excellent timing and expression. He made it seem easy, probably because he is a veteran actor who performed in the same play years ago and recently did a similar play by the same author at Harlequin Productions in Olympia.

“The Weir” was written by the great Irish playwright Coner McPherson. It won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play of 1997-98 and was voted one of the 100 most significant plays of the 20th century in a poll conducted by the Royal National Theatre in London. McPherson won the Critics’ Circle Award as the most promising playwright that year.

This play is masterfully written, quiet, funny in places, spooky and emotionally draining. It is the story of four working-class men who hang out in a small town Irish pub, drink excessively and talk a lot. An outsider joins their ranks: a woman named Valerie (Ellen Peters) who has recently arrived from Dublin. Her presence changes the dynamics of the four old friends who are accustomed to kidding around with each other. Although competition for her affection is never spoken of directly, the underlying sexual tension is undeniable.

The men take turns telling stories, which become increasingly spooky with talk of ghosts and fairies. Then Valerie tells her own story — a heartbreaking tale that takes unexpected turns. Until this point in the play, Peters plays Valerie as a polite and circumspect woman who remains mostly in the background, but as her story unfolds, Peters’ depiction of emotion becomes overpowering.

Performing in this show are some of the Puget Sound area’s most talented actors. In addition to Peters as Valerie and Wright as Jack, the cast is rounded out with Gabriel McClelland as Finbar, a married businessman who spends most of the evening being protective of Valerie and mad at his friends; Brian Jansen, who plays Jim as a haunted man; and Robert McConkey, who is excellent in the role of the amiable barkeep, Brendan. All of them play their parts with such realism that you feel you are right in the bar with them.

I found it to be captivating and haunting, and despite the strained emotions, somehow comforting.

The Weir

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 17

Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma

Tickets: $12; online at tacomalittletheatre. com, or at the box office at 253-272-2281.

Notes: This production uses a non-nicotine and non-tobacco-based smoke. It is recommended for ages 13 and older. It contains strong language and some mature content. alec@alecclayton.com

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