It’s a cinch the dart board at rural Ireland’s The Weir pub hasn’t seen action since Beelzebub was probably 3. In fact, the whole place is hosting a dust-bunny picnic as we speak, and regulars Jack, Jim and Finbar top the guest list. The Weir isn’t so much a tavern as a dusky little clubhouse, with the first-string patrons gulping away lost hours over a sea of “small ones.”
And the conversation isn’t meant for the faint of heart. The men’s ghostly tales are as tall (and sometimes as unpleasant) as the legendary things that go bump in the night.
Two items about Conor McPherson’s eponymous play, currently up at Carlsbad’s New Village Arts, leave a lot for discussion: These well-meaning blokes, including Weir owner Brendan, are joined at the hip, and their stories’ supernatural color reflects the paper-thin veil between life and death (not unlike the thoughts behind The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder’s great Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about five people who die in the collapse of a rope structure in Peru and the circumstances that brought them together for that fateful event).
But oddly, this show never – ever – realizes the depth of the irony and fellowship McPherson’s trying to create. While the stories are intriguing (the yarn about windows rattling at the house one of the characters rents is pretty good), their tellers are absolutely not. Count the seconds between sentence fragments. The intervals between each and every utterance are virtually the same, even as the characters insist on remaining seated almost throughout, leaving very few clues as to their unique affectations or roles in life.
These people aren’t portrayed so much as stenciled. And that’s even stranger than their speeches.
The language and comportment clean up (a little) with the arrival of Valerie, a young Dublin woman Finbar brings by (we’re not told why he’s her escort); it turns out she’s renting a house not far from the tav. The guys’ creepy stories are no match for Valerie’s, which tragically involves a child and implies Valerie has had actual contact with spirits. From there, the men are supremely deferential, with Jack then telling his own story of personal loss.
Indeed, the otherworld is no respecter of gender or age, and that revelation fuels a renewed sense of the characters’ kinship, especially for Jack and Val.
We get inklings of understories from time to time – Finbar’s gone a bit uptown and doesn’t hang out at the tavern that much anymore; a hydroelectric dam is the area’s biggest draw. Beyond that, the action almost resembles a staged reading, with virtually no thought to the subtext or to the characters’ greater raisons d’être. One speech unceremoniously picks up where one leaves off, replete with holes the size of the theater. The bar’s dowdy condition gets short shrift as well, with nary a character using the stage as a tool for character development.
Maybe director Kristianne Kurner meant this approach as part of a style she detected in the writing, and that’s her right – but the action comes out dry, uncadenced and static, even in the small talk, not at all reflective of the stories’ potentials. It’s just plain hard to understand what Kurner, and the others, are trying to convey.
Samantha Ginn and Ron Choularton play Valerie and Jack; both are exceedingly smart and nimble performers and here are well-cast. Finbar hasn’t gone so far uptown as to abandon his lads, and Tom Stephenson portrays him accordingly. Jim (Tom Deak) and Brendan (Max Macke) have an agreeable washed-out quality, with Deak’s portrayal the best of the show.
Kelly Kissinger’s set and Chris Renda’s lights are persistently and appropriately one-note – but that monotony isn’t meant to extend to the characters and certainly not to the direction. Kurner is one of the better voices in area theater, and I haven’t forgotten her superb performance as the seething Kate Mundy in NVA’s Dancing at Lughnasa, from 2008. But The Weir represents a dramatic departure in the tone she creates and the directorial values that shape it. If you’re looking for a piece on life’s breathtaking serendipites, an afternoon with The Bridge of San Luis Rey is the far better option, with or without a small one in hand.
This review is based on the matinee performance of Oct. 11. The Weir runs through Nov. 1 at New Village Arts, 2787 State St. in Carlsbad. $32-$35. (760) 433-3245, newvillagearts.org.