September 2010 Theatre Review by Paul Cosca
To get to The Irish American Heritage Center, you get in your car and drive. And drive. Then, when you run out of gas, find a different car and continue driving. And once you think you're too far away to possibly be anywhere and you're afraid of falling off the edge of the earth, you will find it. Luckily, that drive will be worth it. Because once you are there, you can enjoy Seanachai Theatre's lovely production of Connor McPherson's "The Weir".
The first thought upon entering the space is that scenic designer Robert Groth has an absolutely impeccable eye. His job was to create an authentic Irish pub, and I am incredibly hard pressed to find anything out of place. If there had been someone behind the bar during the pre show I would have most definitely bought myself a drink (hint hint, Seanachai folks). It's a beautiful, painstakingly meticulous set, and it's the perfect setting for this play.
The play opens up with Jack (Brad Armacost), and it's immediately apparent that Jack is about as "regular" as it gets in this pub. Jack is jocular and jovial and exactly what you'd expect out of a slightly tipsy old Irish guy. Before too long, the rest of the gang arrives. Brendan (Brad Smith) owns the place and tends the bar. Jim (Jeff Christian) isn't the sharpest spoon, but he is incredibly earnest and well meaning. They joke and drink, but this day is a little different than most. The cold Irish wind is blowing businessman Finbar (Kevin Theis) back into town, and he's bringing a mysterious woman with him from Dublin (Sarah Wellington).
The heart of this play is in the art of storytelling. Once everyone is assembled, the topic of conversation wanders its way to the somewhat spooky stories that surround the area. Ireland (like much of Europe) is a land of ancient myths, many of which still survive. Even to this day, it's nearly impossible to get a building built on a piece of land that is known to be inhabited by Fairies. The more stories that are told, the more disturbing the night becomes, until it comes to a tragic crescendo as the mysterious woman Valerie tells her own story.
Storytelling really is a lost art, and modern playwrights seem to shy away from telling a good yarn (perhaps thinking that there is not enough action to keep the interest of an audience). It's a shame though, because a great story and a masterful storyteller can be as compelling as anything else on a stage. The stories told throughout the evening really are compelling, and the cast delivers these tales with a fantastic exuberance. Brad Armacost in particular easily traverses a broad range of emotion, and his stories range from the silly to the simply tragic.
I do have one small quibble, but it is worth mentioning. At times, the thick Irish brogue becomes a little unintelligible. Whether it's their accents or my ear, I ended up losing some sections of the play in a thick Irish haze (especially Brad Armacosts broad strokes of language).
Many of my favorite playwrights are ones that are educated and passionate enough to know the rules, and talented enough to create effective plays that transcend those classic rules. You'd struggle to find the "action" of this play, or a real "conflict". But there is no denying that this is a play that is spellbinding, to say the least, and I'll be adding Connor McPherson to my library right away.
"The Weir", directed by Matt Miller, runs Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm through October 17, 2010 at The Irish American Heritage Center (4626 N. Knox Ave). Tickets are $22. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit www.seanachai.org.
About Paul Cosca
Paul Cosca is a writer, actor, director, designer, and critic who loves the city of Chicago. Originally from California, Cosca moved to the windy city in 2005 and got a BFA in acting from Roosevelt University. He has acted and directed in several theatres in the city and is the artistic Director of Brikenbrak Theatre Project, a theatre that is devoted to challenging the way people think.
Cosca is devoted to creating a dialogue between all kinds of people in the theatre community. He believes that actors, directors, writers, critics, and theatre lovers should all engage each other, and that the flow of communication is what makes theatre such a vibrant community. He would love to hear what you think, not only about his reviews, but about other shows you've seen. Feel free to send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.