Three men walk into an Irish pub.
It’s not a wind-up for a joke; it’s pretty much the start of Conor McPherson’s The Weir, the opening play for Wellfleet’s Harbor Stage Company’s seventh season, and an oddly moving story of mystery and longing. The deception in this play is its simplicity: regulars Jim (Robin Bloodworth) and Jack (Dennis Cunningham) are chatting with bartender Brendan (Ari Lew) in a remote village pub when they’re joined by Finbar (Gabriel Kuttner), back from Dublin and accompanied by a stranger, Valerie (founding member Stacy Fischer). They talk, they drink far too much, and then, an hour and a half later, they all go home.
Sounds simple? This play is anything but. Rich dialogue combined with deep exploration into the characters’ experiences and longings makes The Weir a brilliant snapshot of isolation, loss, loneliness … and hope.
This is essentially a story about stories, about telling stories, and about how stories affect us, connect us, and ultimately come to define us. It’s about the echo of the past and the fear of the unknown. It captures a rural Irish community without artificial whimsey, but rather with great humanity and compassion.
It’s also an exploration of how men live in isolation. Finbar—the one who left the community for the bright lights of the big city—is the only married character. Jimmy lives with his mother and frets over her medication; Jack and Brendan appear to have no women in their lives. The famous German tourists, whose advent casts a pall over the immediate future, might well include women; but Valerie is the first young woman to really enter their pub and their lives. And she serves as a catalyst for reflection on lost opportunities and inexplicable tragedies.
The Harbor Stage Company again hits it way out of the park here. Founding member Robert Kropf directs with a fine understanding and appreciation of how people really interact with each other, move around a room, and share difficult secrets. There’s a natural understatedness that Kropf keeps moving forward with pauses at just the right times to assimilate the mystery of the moment.
Storytelling requires an audience, and one of the tricky things McPherson asks of his characters is to spend time listening to the others. Every single cast member handles these long reactive moments skillfully (though one has to wonder if Brendan will make it out from behind the bar, with the amount of alcohol he’s putting away as he listens!); they’re all highly watchable even as they become audience, something of a tour de force.
The Harbor Stage Company consistently produces an immersive atmosphere, and again here both set and lighting design rise to the occasion. The cast is impeccable: every performance is sensitive and nuanced. Cunnningham provides emotional energy and focus that keep the play moving forward. When Fischer’s character trumps his story with hers, it’s not a competition; the actors play it as a blending, a tapestry of stories of mystery and awe and longing. Kuttner portrays brash entrepreneur Finbar with big-city poise but also vulnerability; Bloodworth’s Jim is a blue-collar Everyman; Lew has just the right combination of involvement in the stories and professional distance from them.
I went to this performance with two English friends who, while not themselves Irish, were far more likely than I to catch problems with the accent, and they reported it as spot-on. Frankly, I wish more better-known actors in movies and television could handle an accent as authentically as these five.
And the language itself is pure fun. “It’s juvenile carry-on,” says one of the characters early in the play; when Valerie orders a glass of white wine, the men are impressed: “It’s not too often the wine be flowing around here!” Other lovely Irish expressions keep cropping up: “fair play to him;” “a big head on that yoke;” “the young one;” and my own favorite “blow-ins” for the people we on the Cape would call washashores.
As she tells her story, Valerie says, hauntingly, there’s “not one morning that I don’t wake up with her name in the room.” Audiences are sure to remember it, too.
June 14-July 7
Photos by John Ward