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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 19, 1999.

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Broadway Review: `The Weir’

Boredom with a play makes you consider details you

would otherwise tend to overlook. Take the howling wind that is periodically

heard outside designer Rae Smith’s dismal, inhospitable Irish pub

in the small Irish town that is the setting for "The Weir."

Except for its eerie, somewhat corny, B-movie effectiveness, its presence

is as much a contrivance as are the protracted ghost stories that

are told by the five sheltered occupants, and that make up the fabric

of the play.

Then there is the amount of bottled Guinness (the tap needs filling)

and white wine that is constantly being ordered and served but conspicuously

not drunk by this rather curious gathering of four local men and a

female newcomer from Dublin. This, as the evening ponderously progresses

with the men taking turns revealing macabre lore about the resident

ghosts to the woman who will undoubtedly have her own, "I can

top that" story.

The groundwork has been set and the grumbling begins as Jack (Jim

Norton), a pub regular, arrives to find the tap dry and that he has

to settle for bottled Guinness. Jack is even less pleased by the arrival

of Finbar (Dermot Crowley), a local boy and part-time realtor, mildly

resented by all, and who made his fortune beyond the town. Finbar

has been spending the last few days giving Valerie (Michelle Fairley),

the "blow in" tenant from Dublin, a sightseeing tour of the

countryside.

It only takes the presence of a stranger to perk up the usual gossipy

banter between Brendan (Brendan Coyle), the bar’s lonely proprietor,

Jack (Jim Norton), the local morose garage owner, and Jim (Kieran

Ahern), his 40-something assistant. They are all eager to impress

the quiet but convivial newcomer with their personal encounters and

knowledge of ghostly comings and goings, that include graveyard spirits,

messages from Ouija boards, and travel on fairy roads.

Although Irish writer Conor McPherson’s play was the winner of last

season’s Olivier Awards, this Royal Court Theater production, now

at the Walter Kerr Theater, demands more supernatural patience from

a Broadway audience than any predilection they may have for following

a trail of supernatural monologues. As ghost stories go, they are

all rather tame and unterrifying, even including the woman’s final

sad, but surprisingly unconvincing tale, evoking a personal tragedy.

Most surprising is that these Irish pub habitues, as realistically

conceived and portrayed as they are, seem less colorful and witty

than their real-life counterparts.

Even as one’s ears attend the tales, one’s eyes wander to the walls

where old photos and a dart board seem to reflect neglect. There is

no denying that the dreary atmosphere could easily prompt the resentful

attitudes, half-hearted scorning, and playful empathetic baiting that

pass between the men and bookend their gift for storytelling.

I will concede that Ian Rickson’s commendably attentive direction

provides the fine actors with ample space for rapt listening and resonant

speechifying. Under lighting designer Paule Constable’s appropriately

creepy illuminations, Norton’s spirited griping, Coyle’s cautiously

attentive interest in the attractive woman, Ahern’s confrontation

with the ghost of a child molester, Crowley’s vividmemories of a family

that was so spooked by a ghost that they moved away, and Fairley’s

poignant final contribution to the tale-telling, in which she shares

with them her disturbing communication with her dead daughter, there

is an expanded bonding of sad souls.

Unfortunately, "The Weir," for all its artful expression of

shared lives, and its poetic outpouring of sympathetic feelings, is

less a haunting piece of dramatic literature than a daunting two-hour

exercise in time-shared empathy. HH

— Simon Saltzman

The Weir, Walter Kerr, 219 West 48, 212-239-6200. $60.


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