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McPherson play 'The Weir' uses pub setting to its advantage

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'The Weir'

"The Weir" features (from left) Steve Isom, Jason Contini, Jennifer Quinn, John Bratkowski and Nick Henderson. Photo by Aaron Markham

A play that takes place in a pub and runs in a pub enjoys one obvious advantage: Reality can double as the set. And that set brings the whole audience into the world of the play.

A secondary plus: Members of the audience can have a drink if they choose. If they arrive early, they can order food, too.

That play is Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” in a new production that plays on some nights at McGurk’s and on others at Dressel’s. In her debut as a director, Kari Ely (a well-known actor here) shows a confident hand with McPherson’s style. McPherson’s characters don’t rush, and neither does she.

“The Weir” takes place about 20 years ago at a pub in a very small town near Sligo. (McPherson stands among Ireland’s leading living writers.) The men there have known each other all their lives. There’s the genial barkeep, Brendan (Nick Henderson), and three regulars: testy Jack (John Bratkowski), shy, awkward Jim (Jason Contini) and prosperous Finbar (Steve Isom).

But on this cold, rainy night, Finbar brings someone new, Valerie (Jennifer Theby Quinn). Valerie has recently done the unthinkable: She moved from Dublin to this quiet, rural area —usually the reverse.

As they chat over drinks, the conversation drifts away from discussions of families, work and the holiday visitors who take over the pub in the summer. They venture into dreamier matters.

This is McPherson’s forte, and the long, leisurely accounts of supernatural experiences range from the comic to the weird to the heartbreaking. (Bratkowski’s down-to-earth account of how Jack ruined his own life seems all the more impressive, by contrast.) These speeches allow both the writer and the actors to stretch.

They even stretch a hand to the audience. Listening to actors just a few feet away, you can let yourself ride on their words as if you were floating down an Irish river.

Of course, a pub is not the perfect place for a play in all respects. The lighting is best described as “on,” and on opening night (at McGurk’s) wooden pillars in the middle of the “theater” created some bad sightlines. Worse, there was music playing in another room.

That’s not ideal. But the inviting mood may even have benefited from the problems. Since you couldn’t imagine that you were in a theater, you might as well imagine you were in Ireland.

“The Weir” is produced by the artists, under an arrangement with Actor’s Equity.


‘The Weir’

When and where • At John D. McGurk’s Irish Pub, 1200 Russell Boulevard, on Feb. 2, 3, 9 and 10. At Dressel’s Public House on Feb. 4, 8 and 11. All performances at 8 p.m.

How much • $15-$25

More info • 618-514-9976; cocktailsandcurtaincalls.com

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Judith Newmark is the theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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