Playwright: Conor McPherson
At: Signal Ensemble Theatre at the Chopin, 1543 W. Division
Phone: 773-347-1350; $10-$15
Runs through: March 24
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGERead more story below....
'The romantic Irishman does not exist,' declared essayist Florence King in 1975, 'The carefree minstrel boy of song and story is, in reality, a guilt-ridden, sex-dreading, 45-year-old bachelor who lives with his mother and prefers the company of the other lads at the pub.'
Whether this observation still held true in 1999, when Conor McPherson's play premiered, there is no denying the agitation among the regulars at Brendan's housefront tavern ( one of whom is, in fact, an old bachelor, and another of whom does live with his mum ) at the news that a woman—a city girl, yet, with no visible husband—has moved into the neighborhood. That her first act—upon breaching their fraternal fortress of beer, whiskey and cigarettes—is to order a white wine only exacerbates the culture shock.
But rural Ireland is not Deliverance country, and these are not monsters, but earthy codgers whose isolation, however self-imposed, renders them sufficiently secure to extend cordiality to a stranger who promises, at least, to be different from the much-derided summer tourists who disrupt the pastoral serenity. Sure enough, after each of the courtly gents has regaled the mysterious damsel with eerie tales of the unexplainable occurrences that spring up in remote colonies the world over, she recounts her own experience with restless spirits of the dead harrying loved ones still shaken at their absences. By closing time, the men have come to recognize a fellow pilgrim seeking sanctuary from the darkness of an uncertain, often cruel, world, and welcomed her into their community.
Our welcome at a play where the onstage action is centered almost wholly upon the barroom rites of swapping lies—with a break or two for watering and un-watering—depends, first, on how convivial we find the company and, second, on how gripping we find their blarney. Fortunately, the cast, assembled by Christopher Prentice for this Signal Ensemble production, all but glows with the warmth and camaraderie of players thoroughly comfortable with one another, much as set designer Melania Lancy's taproom ( with its meticulously-selected wall decoration ) reflects the cozy insularity of regional trade dating back generations, if not centuries. And with a winter storm blustering outside on opening night, who wouldn't be happy to stop awhile in its cozy confines for a ghostly tale or two delivered in Phil Timberlake's excellent dialects? The Weir runs a riveting 90 minutes, and we are never more sorry than when it's over.