Listening to a bunch of old guys shooting the shite may not be your idea of a fun night out. But when a capable group of actors are tasked with bringing Conor McPherson’s famously dark and dense dialogue to life, it can be surprisingly entertaining.
The Footlight Players tackle The Weir for this season’s first Late Night at the Footlights production. Written by the famed Irish playwright in 1997, the play is set in a small-town Irish pub as four men gather to drink, swap stories, and entertain the village’s pretty, doe-eyed newcomer. The eerie ghost stories are perfectly suited to a dark fall night, but they also reveal deeper issues at work in each of their lives.
Nat Jones leads the show as Jack, a grumpy and gregarious business owner whose booming brogue fills the room. He’s joined by friendly publican Brendan (Adam Miles) and simple, sweater-vested country man Jim (Scott Cason). They set the tone with several minutes of banter before being joined by Finbar (Thomas Burke Heath), a well-dressed real estate agent friend who’s giving newcomer Valerie (Grace Metropolis) the grand tour of the village. The four men playfully vie for her attention, settling down after a few drinks as the stories start to spill out. The first, told by Jack, is the tale of a haunting in the very house that Valerie just moved in to.
There are times when the play lags — namely at the beginning and especially at the end — but the actors do an admirable job of keeping our attention throughout most of the night. We quickly fall into the easy cycle of edge-of-your-seat tales followed by casual conversation. As darker issues are uncovered by the seemingly innocuous stories — jealousy, loneliness, guilt, and finally a terrible tragedy from Valerie — the characters’ chemistry grows stronger, and the audience feels like part of that growth.
The set is as cozy and slightly shabby as one would expect a rural Irish pub to feel. Brendan stands behind the bar on one side of the stage keeping his customers hydrated — in fact, we couldn’t help but wonder what they were actually drinking, and how they were making it through without bathroom breaks (maybe that was what the intermission was for). The other characters move between the bar stools (provided by The Griffon Pub) and a small seating area on the opposite side of the stage, complete with a wood stove and a few armchairs. The costumes are also mostly effective, except for Valerie’s unflattering ensemble — why is the young leading lady sporting baggy mom jeans and a vest?
Craig Trow, a recent Charleston transplant from England, served as dialect coach for the cast. While some actors fared better than others — Cason’s accent was the strongest, and Heath’s the least consistent — they did an overall good job of capturing the brogue. It probably won’t be distracting unless you’re a stickler — or Irish.
Otherwise, the actors convey their characters well. Metropolis, a recent College of Charleston grad, is charming as the giggling, slightly uncomfortable outsider with a powerful secret. Heath is spastic and jovial as the fast-talking Finbar, and Cason is quiet and brooding, but humorous and thoughtful when he does speak. Miles, a Second City vet, serves mainly as an open ear (like any good bartender), while Jones effectively pulls them all together with his gruff affection.
The play’s namesake, a dam outside of the village, is only mentioned once or twice, but it goes a long way in helping to understand The Weir. Like any good story-teller knows, it’s all about the build-up — and the inevitable release.