REVIEW: Curio Theater Company’s The Weir

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[Photo by KYLE CASSIDY]

AaronAvatar_1.jpgBY AARON STELLA Dictionary.com defines a “Weir” as: A low dam built across a river to raise the level of water upstream, typically to power a millrace. Fair enough. “A drink precedes a story” (Irish Proverb). Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. In either case, water the humble or water the enthraller runs in grooves carved by forces interacting, much like the vague exchanges that occur in conversation. Now imagine an unadorned Irish pub in the small town of Carrick, where a loyal few frequent, and each comes with a weighty pocket’s worth of stories. The jovial confab of the country was playwright Conor McPherson’s point of intrigue when he composed his award-winning play The Wier, and, too, what inspired its production by the Curio Theater Company, now playing the Calvary Church at 815 South 48th Street.

CTC places you right in the midst of the tiny Irish Pub—practically tableside—containing every element of rustic charm you would expect: scattered tables and chairs on antiqued hardwood floors, a quaint bar carved from the tree stumps, Harpoon and Guinness taps, shelves cluttered with pint and shot glasses, black ashtrays, and photographs of the town’s past and progeny. Once Brendan (Liam Kelley Castellan) enters, not so soon before Jack (Paul Kuhn and CTC’s Co-Artistic Director), their casual imbibing made me ache for a pint myself. (A complimentary beer for verisimilitude wouldn’t hurt). As their initial conversation commences, Jim (Eric Scotolati) joins them, and each begins to slowly divulge their positions in the quiet life of Carrick. The neighborly forum eventually elicits gossip about a new female resident moved from Dublin, Valerie (Jennifer Summerfield), who’s being toured around town by a snobby, married real estate agent, Finbar (Josh Hitchens). Then Valerie and Finbar enter the pub; cigarettes are lit and drinks are downed as the five-some meander into a trade of stories; the gentlemen, keeping an especial eye on Valerie, but none more than Finbar.

Jack tells the first story, one about fairies spooking a family with unexplainable disturbances; Finbar, about a ghostly lady with death at her heels; Jim, about a pervert wanting to be buried next to one of his pre-pubescent victims; then finally, Valerie, about the loss of her child, who would claim to be afflicted by the knockings of children held captive behind her walls, and a shadowy man that would leer at her from across the street at nighttime. The question is raised upon the final telling whether or not the bar-goers believe in the supernatural as posited in each story. It then becomes apparent that McPherson wanted to pit supernatural folklore against existentialism and which side of that divide each character sits tells us a lot about them.

Subtle emotions emerge and recede over the course of the play, re-appearing fleetingly to allow the audience to catch a glimpse into the interior lives of the characters, true to McPherson’s intent; however, while a study of the undercurrents of conversation appeals conceptually on many levels, when fleshed out in an relaxed drama the authenticity relies heavily on thespian talent. All the actors portrayed their characters plausibly (particular mention given to Kuhn and Scotolati for their exceptional delivery), but their attempts to maintain the Irish accent rendered the dialogue noticeably mechanical, at times approaching the fast-talking, wooden volley reminiscent of the Gilmore Girls. For a play where naturalistic dialogue is the main attraction, it stands as a point of contention. That being said, however, anyone who glanced at the play’s description in the program or was already familiar with Mcpherson’s work could foresee the challenge ahead in that its execution requires a knack for improvisation. It is the nature of the The Weir that no one performance will be the same; as is the case for anything, really, but for The Weir it goes double.

Nonetheless, where CTC excels is in their ingenuity and ambition. It’s rare I find theater companies—especially ones this size—that set such high standards for themselves. And I must admit, the bar was constructed so realistically that it didn’t take much for me to lose myself in that world. I would be interested in viewing another performance of The Wier by CTC for comparison, not only for McPherson’s dramaturgy, but also to witness that shrouded world of insides bore out, as I did often experience.

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