"The Weir"" Falls Short of Audience Expectations"



Conor McPherson's flawless acting does little to mask lack of plot or substance, but "The Weir" provides a few scares. Ghosts never appear and the plot never thickens, instead building and deflating in a manner that leaves the audience only partially fulfilled.

The play's purpose is to display the breakdown of the mental weirs, or dams, that each character uses to block the memory of an inexplicable encounter with the dead. Set in a small bar in rural Ireland in 1995, the play falls short of its goal and ends up feeling more like a Halloween episode of "Cheers."

Jack, played by Saul Elkin, a theater professor at UB, is the equivalent of alcoholic Norm from "Cheers." Jack tells the first ghost story, about fairies, giving his audience (onstage and off) a good case of the willies. But, there is no part of him in the story; the breakdown of his weir comes later and has nothing to do with the supernatural.

Finbar, played by Vincent O'Neill, is the play's version of Frasier. In response to extensive goading, Finbar tells the next ghost story, less chilling than Jack's but demonstrating the breaking down of the dam against the supernatural. Unbeknownst to Finbar, the memory has been close by in his subconscious all along, affecting the course of his life. With visibly painful, reluctant acting, O'Neill does an excellent job of building up and then breaking down his weir in plain sight of the audience.

Gerry Maher plays the Cliff Claven-like Jim, who is the smallest man on the stage but has the biggest ghost story to be told. His story recounts meeting with a ghostly pedophile who walks up to Jim and, despite already being dead, tells Jim to bury him with a little girl.

The production's final tale is told by Valerie, the refined, Princess Diana-like character. Margaret Massman, making her Irish Classical Theater Company debut, pulled the audience into her tragic story with an amazing performance. Massman visibly turned white and trembled as she told the story of her little girl.

The bartender Brendan (or Sam, in keeping with the Cheers analogy), played by Dylan Ezra, does little more than pour small ones and pints, but he does it well.

The set for "The Weir," as usual for the ICTC, is a simple but effective setup with one corner a precise replica of an Irish pub bar and the other three housing various chairs and tables so that every audience member in the center-stage theater gets a direct view of the action.

The constant lighting is unremarkable and the costumes are modern, casual street clothes.

"The Weir" is being performed at the Irish Classical Theatre in the downtown theater district through Dec. 2.