The Weir by Conor McPherson, currently onstage at TheatreWorks, looks, sounds and feels like a play — but it isn't.
In it, Valerie from Dublin resettles in the Irish countryside to escape a disturbing past. An ad hoc reception committee of four locals greet her in a local pub. They welcome her with stories of a ghostly, supernatural sort, told with excessive (but sometimes intriguing) details and more phallic and sexually charged metaphors than you can shake a Freudian stick at.
What's missing is action of any kind, a necessity in almost any play. What we get is group therapy, but not theater.
True, some very fine plays get by without action, but usually something happens offstage to compensate. And what's happened to Valerie to bring her here in the first place is merely an accident, not a calculated injustice that reflects on, say, social organization or conflict. To flatten Valerie's character arc even further, she's really just wanting the men's acceptance.
McPherson lights a fuse and we watch it fizzle out. The stories are moving, but Valerie's role could've been written just as easily for a man and perhaps to better effect. All that is at stake for anyone is embarrassment. Moreover, he foregrounds her confession with a weak, "I just want to make sure I'm not bananas." By the time she speaks it, we already know she isn't. The "ghost stories" haven't scared, discouraged or changed her in the least.
Nonetheless, the show has acquired immense international popularity and received many prestigious awards and nominations. The characters typify Irish endurance. A nation without conquests of its own, it has lasted the invasions of others for centuries, and in The Weir must put up with more in the form of hordes of German tourists.
McPherson's tales, however surreal, are absorbing and suspenseful. If only this talented cast would only use them to take possession of the stage. With the exception of Michael Augenstein as garage owner Jack, there's a cautious, Anglicized civility to everything in this production, no trace of red-blooded Irish combativeness. A shot of B-12 can take care of that, and perhaps the words of immortal trainer Constantino "Cus" D'Amato in the dressing room.
"Boxers hit harder when women are around."