Resident Ensemble Players Season Opener: THE WEIR

by Marshall Garrett

Michael Gotch as Jim, Mic Matarrese as Brendan, Stephen Pelinski as Jack, and Kathleen Pirkl Tague as Valerie in Resident Ensemble Players’ THE WEIR. (Photo: Paul Cerro)

With fall comes the beginning of the REP’s fifth season, Conor McPherson’s THE WEIR. Well noted in the publicity as well as the notes provided by Artistic Director Sandy Robbins, this play is considered one of the greatest of the 20th century, in one poll (Royal National Theatre) it tied for 40th place along with Endgame, A View from the Bridge, and Iceman Cometh. I don’t know about all that; what I can say is the night of storytelling is an excellent one, if a bit underwhelming for all the hype of the script.

The story, such as it is, centers around a pub late one night in rural Ireland. The bartender, three barflies, and a newcomer to town (a woman) gather for what becomes a night of stories, centering on the supernatural, and each more haunting and personal than the one that came before it. Relationships are far more important than plot, and what begins as a game of one-upmanship to impress Valerie (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) forges a bond between Valerie, the mechanic Jack (Stephen Pelinski), and the bartender Brendan (Mic Materrese). Rounding out the cast are Michael Gotch and Steve Tague.

There seems to be a great appetite, either in this company or its audience for Irish plays – this is the third in as many years, though I have only been fortunate enough to catch this one and last year’s superb The Cripple of Inishmaan. While I confess to not being particularly drawn to such small stories, the comfort of these performers together and the beautiful sense of community that fills this production are the height of realistic acting.

The play exists outside any true genre or subgenera that I attempt to pigeonhole it in – we laughed through the evening with some regularity, followed the characters into the depths of emotional despair, and more than flirted with the supernatural. However, this is a play that is naturalistic to a fault, and therefore defies genre except to describe it as life. I ultimately did find myself having a very difficult time connecting to any of the characters in particular, and although I admired their community, I never truly felt as though I was brought into it. That may not be the purpose, but as it was the stories bringing the characters together, as an additional listener my own journey was decidedly separate from the characters.

I’ve made no secret of my great admiration for the craft of this company, and this production is of course no exception. While technically this play had less to impress this time around, with no costumes, set changes, or even significant shifts in lighting, the play was able to focus intently on those performing it. Kathleen Pirkl Tague in particular shines in this production, quietly at first, although both her strength and quiet vulnerability are of no surprise when they climb to the forefront.

Overall, I found the play to be excellently well done if underwhelming in its story. The accents were not as strong as I have come to expect, especially with so many Irish plays in the repertoire of the REP. As always, I will echo Mr. Robbins’ plea to the audience- if you have never been to the REP, go take in a play there. It is theatre of the highest quality with a company that keeps getting stronger the longer they work together. If you have been, bring a friend, and for this one, you’ll want to have a beer together afterwards.

By Conor McPherson
Directed by Leslie Reidel
Resident Ensemble Players
Through October 14, 2012
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
University of Delaware

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