Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Weir"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE WEIR"

by Colin McPherson
directed and co-designed by John Fogle

Jack … Michael McNamara
Brendan … Kevin Walker
Jim … Stephen Cooper
Finbar … Shawn Maguire
Valerie … Deborah Linehan

Several years ago, I attended a production of Colin McPherson’s THE WEIR and went away feeling that nothing had happened, plot-wise: in a pub somewhere in rural Ireland, on a dark, windy night, Brendan the bartender serves drinks while two of the regulars, Jack and Jim, and an occasional drop-by, Finbar, entertain a neighbor,Valerie, just arrived from Dublin, with three local ghost stories (including one revolving around the very house she has purchased through Finbar); to the men’s surprise and embarrassment, Valerie counters with a ghost story of her own, stemming from a personal loss --- and that is that. There is much “planting” throughout the evening --- the old photographs on the wall; the small-town gossip; the nearby river that gives the play its title; those bogeys --- but little takes root and blooms, and there is even less for drama’s sake: for all their drinking, everyone stays well out of his or her cups; if words of irritation are exchanged, they are quickly forgotten with a handshake and an elbow-bend; not once is Valerie approached in a less-than-chivalrous manner, etc. --- I felt I was more than justified in my disappointment. But between that production and the current one by the Mugford Street Players, I attended Mr. McPherson’s three-character DUBLIN CAROL; again, little happened, plot-wise (an undertaker’s assistant is persuaded by his estranged daughter on Christmas Eve to come make funeral arrangements for his dying ex-wife) but it was a brilliant evening nonetheless as the leading actor gave a marvelous, many-layered performance (and earned an Addison for his pains). Seeing THE WEIR again, I conclude that Mr. McPherson is a playwright of mood more than anything else but offers splendid opportunities for actors to craft subtle, multi-faceted characterizations wrapped in realism.

As expected, the Mugford production is good bread-and-butter with John Fogle continuing to be a leading actors' director in the Boston area, allowing his cast to be talking heads for long periods of times rather than yanking them about --- yet something was missing; only afterwards did I realize that Mr. Fogle’s lovely, detailed set, co-designed with David Valcovic, was too balanced, too symmetrical, too serene --- a well-lit singles’ bar rather than a pub pulled out of the hostile earth; had the setting been all at angles, for instance, barring easy-flowing tableaus; had the bar itself been brought further downstage, focusing the characters in low-key close-ups rather than long-distance shots; had lighting/sound designer Greg Dana filled those corners with inky shadows and kept the howling wind never out of ear’s distance, then the stage would have been drenched in mood with Mr. McPherson's characters huddling within the timeless, haunted Ireland of tradition, of loneliness and of drink; at closing time, they should be somewhat reluctant to exit into the night --- booga-booga-BOOGA!

Michael McNamara as Jack is believably rumpled and lived-in instead of simply going “Oirish” and his tinderbox scratchiness is offset by Shawn Maguire’s smooth-as-cream Finbar; twice I have seen Mr. Maguire strut about onstage, rolling like a dandified sailor and ‘twas pleasant and reassuring to see him here in calm, engaging mode (when I see actors repeat the same routines from play to play, I assume that is all they can, want or are allowed to do --- I’m glad Mr. Maguire, under Mr. Fogle’s guidance, has proved me wrong, in his case). Oddly, Mr. Fogle tends to keep Stephen Cooper as Jim sitting apart from the others, facing slightly upstage, resulting in a near-forgotten performance; by the time he takes the spotlight for his Act Two monologue, Mr. Cooper seems barely peeled next to his fellow storytellers. Kevin Walker has the book-ends role of Bernard --- his bartender opens and closes the show, then pours and listens in between; I kindly suggest that Mr. Walker take his few lines and nail them to a more consistent accent. I personally found Deborah Linehan’s Valerie to be magical because I had first (and last) seen her as one of the she-lags in Mr. Fogle’s golden production of OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD; here, she modestly commands from her stool, sleek and rounded, purring her lines. A good portrayal can make you wonder what will happen to that character, afterwards; through Ms. Linehan, Valerie will undoubtedly become the pub’s buxom earth-mother/goddess, sipping her wine and compassionately allowing her lonely admirers to orbit about her --- the glowing moon in Mr. McPherson’s Great Good Place, surrounded by howling winds and bogeys….

Mr. Fogle's poster for THE WEIR --- that of a hand emerging from a glass of stout (or drowning in it?) --- drew criticism from some Marbleheaders who saw it as an encouragement for their youth to take to drink, themselves. Mr. Fogle stuck to his guns and the image has remained untouched; should the disapproving or the curious attend THE WEIR's few remaining performances, they may be disappointed not to find any odes to Bacchus, after all, and will hopefully settle for Mr. Fogle's production, instead.

HELP SAVE BOSTON’S HISTORIC GAIETY THEATRE!

"The Weir" (30 July-8 August)
http://www.mugfordstreet.com//THE MUGFORD STREET PLAYERS
Marblehead High School, MARBLEHEAD, MA
1 (781) 639-0195

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THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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