In an intimate, rural Irish pub, three friends chat leisurely with one another, laughing and reminiscing. Abruptly interrupting this flux of dialogue, a woman walks through the door, led by a real estate agent and friend of the pub-goers.
With that, a typical, mundane day hastily transforms into an opportunity for old friends to pass ghost stories to the new woman in town. But she has a story of her own, with a shocking twist.
Named after the town's nearby hydroelectric dam (called a weir), the 1997 ensemble play — considered a masterwork by celebrated Irish playwright Conor McPherson — unfolds as a seemingly simplistic story of buddies connecting over drinks while trying to impress the newcomer with spooky stories. Their flow symbolizes the water running off the weir.
"But on a deeper level, it's a play about all the things we experience as human beings: love, loss, loneliness, regret, companionship, friendship and compassion," says Joseph Discher, the 44-year-old directing TheatreWorks' production and playing the part of Finbar, the real estate agent.
This is Discher's first time both acting in and directing a play. Onstage, he's joined by locals Michael Augenstein and Andy Sturt, who, respectively, play the parts of Jack, one of the pub friends; and Brenden, the bartender. Drawing upon his previous work with actors from New York, Discher cast Patrick Toon to play the part of Jim, another pub friend, and Mandy Olsen as newcomer Valerie.
The characters are simply there to be with each other and not dwell on their problems, to heal from the things we all go through in our daily lives, Discher says. And The Weir goes meta with that.
"We go to the theater and come together with the audience to share a story as we're watching people share their own stories," he says. "That's what they are doing in The Weir."
To amp up that feeling, Discher had TheatreWorks create a custom-built pub for the set. And it works, too — the cast invites the audience to stick around after each show for casual conversation and free beer and whiskey.
"I think a lot of people will identify with the characters," Discher says. "Whether we've gone through the exact situation, we've all experienced similar challenges and trials."
Plus, "it's a free trip to Ireland without leaving the state."