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Thursday, November 27, 2014

‘Weir’ mixes ghosts, gabbing

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By John Hayes / Courtesy photo / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Left to right, Kerry Kehoe, Garth Fitzpatrick and Justin Golding star in “The Weir,” playing at The Santa Fe Playhouse. The play will be performed through Dec. 23 and is directed by Matt Sanford.

culture@dailylobo.com

“The Weir” is weird. There’s no mistaking it. Five people wander into an Irish pub, hang out for a while and then leave. In this sense, it’s not terribly complicated — it’s simple, but it isn’t.

What the play does best is be natural; the characters simply exist, and in this it is magnificent. The weird is a good weird.
Irish playwright Conor McPherson is a contemporary writer, and his 1997 “The Weir” is his first and most famous play.

Immediately upon entering the Santa Fe Playhouse, you’ll notice the positively gorgeous set. It is skeletal and elegant, the outline of the pub popping with specific realism in some sections and implied in others. Designer Chadney Everett and technical staff Jeff Tarnoff deserve praise.

Because the play takes place in Ireland and is populated with Irish characters, the first thing you’ll likely be listening for is the accents. They range from stellar to pretty good, certainly above expectation for New Mexico community theater. American sounds and other U.K. dialects slip around a bit, though you probably won’t care. Two of the five actors are bona fide natives of the U.K., making it all the more interesting.

The simplicity of the structure is not an exaggeration. It begins as a dialogue between young bartender Brendan, played by Garth Fitzpatrick, and likable codger Jack, played by Kerry Kehoe, who comfortably chat and joke. Jim, played by Justin Golding, enters the mix and the three pingpong playful banter. Finally, token woman Valerie, played by Carey Cox, is ushered into the bar by Finbar, played by Liam Lockhart, and the picturesque setting is complete.

Extremely verbose ghost stories and gentle joshing are exchanged, and then slowly the characters filter out of the pub — the regular Freytag’s Triangle “rise-climax-fall” pattern avoided.

The play is like a quiet ballet. The five characters move and converse with dancing purpose. It’s slick, well harmonized and that neat construction is always visually present.

The five long monologues in the show are not just regular long.

They are truly immense and are a bit of a commitment.

Certainly, these monologues are all interesting and well performed. Their length, unfortunately, makes the audience zone out and then come back in, wondering what was missed. It’s partly the lulling Irish accents, too, with their lyrical, hooked vowel sounds and the countless scattered tiny details of each story — so much the Irish way that the style is referenced and defended within the play itself.

The naturalism and comfort of the rapid back and forth between characters is pronounced enough that when it drops away for the monologues, the realism is notably missing. If stories so long were really being told, especially among drunk friends, they would probably be interrupted many, many times.

Instead, each character is given complete freedom by the others to wind long-windedly around a tale, as only the Irish can. Everyone has the friend or knows the guy who can talk and talk, and the whole play is populated with that guy. The characters are terribly polite as well.

The first three stories are pleasant enough ghost stories. The first is about a house built on a “fairy road” — a bit like the Irish equivalent of an American Indian burial ground. The second is about creepy spirits that help prevent lung cancer, and the third is about a ghost pedophile.

The fourth story marks a large shift for the play, when Valerie throws her story into the pot. It is a powerful piece in which Valerie speaks to her dead daughter on the telephone a la the Twilight Zone. It is deeply personal and intensely moving.

My favorite, however, is the final story, in which Jack gets a second crack at the metaphoric open mic. At this point, the pub has emptied a bit, and Jack tells a mournful tale of old love and the hollow mistakes of youth. It’s punchy with ancient hindsight and intimate human regret. It is beautifully performed and soundly written.

Albuquerque audiences, too, will find much to like in a Santa Fe theater production like this. It is worth the trip, the time and the money. And Santa Fe is sure a lot closer than Ireland.

“The Weir”
by Conor McPherson
Directed by Matt Sanford

The Santa Fe Playhouse
142 East DeVargas St.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday
at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Runs through Dec. 23
$15 student, $20 general admission
For tickets and reservations visit SantaFePlayhouse.org
or call (505) 988-4262.