The Weir


Through Sunday, Dec. 16

Burning Coal Theatre Company, Raleigh

I was a night owl during my earliest years in college. I’d circumnavigate my friends’ rooms, chancing on conversations and the occasional drink before putting the dorm to bed well after midnight. Only then would I finally get some homework done. In that fine time, I took some care—not only to be procrastination’s prince, but mainly to avoid spending much time in my own company, alone.

So I recognize some of the characters in The Weir, Conor McPherson’s strange 1997 drama, now in its second Burning Coal Theatre production following its regional debut in 2000.

At the outset, Jack, a semi-grizzled middle-aged man, and his quiet, somewhat younger friend, Jim, are both seated at the bar of a cozy rural Irish pub. The place’s homey feel may stem from it being a part of the house of Brendan, the proprietor (promising newcomer Jordan Wolfe), as is sometimes the case in the country’s smallest villages. No sooner have the three finished exchanging gossip about someone new in town than she enters with Finbar, the local realtor.

Valerie (a smart Emily Rieder) is a young woman who’s just moved down from the bright lights of Dublin. It’s only fair to warn you here that no action/adventure sequences stem from this opening in McPherson’s script. Over the rest of his ninety-minute one-act, five people share the hospitality of drinks near the hearth on a cold winter’s night. That’s all, save for the odd fact that the quintet of stories they dispense in that time seem conspicuously less cordial.

Why tell a newcomer of local encounters with the uncanny on her first night as a villager? At first, director Jerome Davis makes it seem like a gentle hazing ritual of sorts, as Jack (an accomplished Simon Kaplan) digs, with obvious relish, into a tale of the fairy folk. But Finbar (founding company actor David Dossey) takes no pleasure in imparting the details of his own brush with the supernatural. Then, in one of veteran actor Lucius Robinson’s most disquieting roles to date, his disturbingly diffident Jim nervelessly relates an even darker tale of a grave-digging job in a nearby town while refusing to make eye contact with any of them.

Taken together, they’re more than a concert of facile, spooky yarns. Instead, call them fair warning to a newcomer that the darkness, stillness, and quiet isolation of the Irish countryside can make the nights an involuntary sensory deprivation chamber, one in which demons—internal or external, take your pick—make easy prey of those who live alone, as four of these characters do.

By the end of The Weir, Davis convinces us that what threatens these clearly haunted souls most is bigger than a ghost or two from the grave, or vengeful emissaries from the realm of the fae. Perhaps that’s why they cling so closely to their somber tales; if these loners were stripped of the horrors with which they’ve at least provisionally learned to live, they somehow know an even greater one awaits them in the silence and the dark. 

It isn’t just loneliness, an emotion which can be kept at bay—at least temporarily—in a modest pub. It’s something more fundamental and emptier. Nietzsche once termed it the abyss.