Irish playwright Conor McPherson has been called the “finest dramatist of his generation” (London Telegraph) with works that are “as near to perfection as a play can come” (New York Times). Philadelphia has been getting a good look at the acclaimed writer recently, with the Arden’s excellent production of The Seafarer followed closely by a screening of his movie The Eclipse at the 18½ Philadelphia Film Festival, and now a praiseworthy black box production of The Weir, on stage at the Curio Theatre through November 20th. (And if that wasn’t enough,Theatre Exile’s production of Shining City is coming to Plays & Players next April).
What attracts McPherson’s admirers (I include myself here) is his unerring ear for conversation that captures the essence of human interactions and his ability to incorporate a magical mythology into the most down-to-earth of everyday settings — an Irish country pub in The Weir (simply, but comfortably recreated at the Curio), a rundown Dublin apartment in The Seafarer.
McPherson is certainly not for everyone. I remember a Philadelphia Inquirer review of his 2006 Broadway hit Shining City that called the dialogue “dull” and “vacuous” (the New York Times praised the “unbearable” poignancy and familiarity of the same lines). Indeed, little happens in The Weir. Five characters (four country men and a woman from the city) gather in a pub and pass the night with ghost stories as the wind hisses by outside. But with each expertly rendered supernatural monologue (and with the superbly subtle reactions) we piece together a portrait of everyday life deeply scored by suffering, longing, and a solid sense of place.
Paul Kuhn is the standout of the Curio cast. (Who are all perhaps too young to be playing such world-weary Irishfolk.) His two stories — one haunted by malicious fairies, one merely haunting — frame the action, such as it is, and give his character an arc far beyond the limited onstage events. Liam Castellan also shines as Brendan, the unambitious but sympathetic pub landlord. But the greatest praise goes to director Gay Carducci, who has handled The Weir’s long and potentially attention-draining soliloquies with aplomb. As the play goes on, the boundary between audience and pub breaks down, and I found myself so thoroughly engaged it was as if I was seated in the bar. I only wished Brendan was pulling me a pint of Harp as well.
The Weir by Conor McPherson
Through November 20
Curio Theatre Company
Calvary Church Sanctuary, 4740 Baltimore Ave
Tickets $10 to $15.
Published by Philly2Philly.