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REVIEW: TheatreWorks' 'The Weir' complex, quiet, completely riveting

By Tracy Mobley-Martinez Updated: January 31, 2014 at 2:23 pm 0

Sometimes we forget the profound power of storytelling.

TV, film and even music have usurped the time-honored job of mothers, grandfathers and older cousins, who spun tales that thrilled, warmed and reminded us of our (pivotal or inconsequential) place in the Big Bad World.

Conor McPherson's award-winning play, "The Weir," delves into that rich territory: On a windy evening in a pub, four men and woman - a newcomer to their Irish town - tell stories of loss and the ghosts that haunt them. TheatreWorks' production, which runs through Feb. 9 fastidiously creates that world, which is quiet, almost hushed, and grounded in characters who could be next door neighbors, childhood pals and friends from church. And, like a fly on the wall, we slowly come to know these distinct personalities through banter and a handful of potent stories, many that involve supernatural events in their past.

The specifics of "The Weir" are almost beside the point. Nothing actually happens. No one substantially changes by the end of the play. The only twist is that there is no twist, despite all the ghost stories. Nevertheless, this production is curiously riveting. In fact, I've never been in a TheatreWorks audience like this: Their attention was so focused, it almost hummed.

In it, ambitious Finbar (Joe Discher, who is also the director) brings the mysterious Valerie (Mandy Olsen) to the local pub for a drink after showing the new resident around the village. They find Jack (Michael Augenstein), Jim (Patrick Toon) and bar owner Brendan (Andy Sturt) poised for her entrance: New people are rare in this rural part of Ireland. The relationships are well trod, laid in by old grievances and shared history. And frequent expletives are just the pepper to flavor conversation. With Valerie as their audience, they unfurl the colorful history of the area through their memories, some that they've probably never told a living soul.

As important to this production as the performances are, the set is so individual and beautifully wrought by designer Jonathan Wentz that is virtually a sixth member of the cast. Sometimes that overshadows the action of the play. Here, though, Wentz (who also designed the intimate set of last year's "Red") crafts a timeless space, one that could've been Xeroxed from our collective idea of what an Irish pub should be. Without such verisimilitude of place, even the greatest acting could crash and burn.

As a director, Discher is particular good at creating a sense of place and chemistry between his characters. That's harder than it looks. His direction of "Red" exactingly drew the edges and intersections of the relationship between irascible painter Mark Rothko and his young assistant. Here, too, Discher successfully fosters the connections so critical to the success of "The Weir."

He brings that understanding to his roles, which include a small but pivotal role in the TheatreWorks' production of "Cymbeline" last summer. His Finbar is not all together comfortable in his old stomping grounds. Discher also seamlessly navigates the treacherous highs and lows of his character's bravado, humility and ultimately, humanity.

Augenstein (perfectly threatening in 2012's "Mary Stuart"), Toon and Sturt masterfully fill out the sketches of their characters into real-life human beings. Augenstein is particularly adept at carving his Jack, a blustering old fellow who finds himself in a lonely life punctuated by nights at the pub. His runs from blowsy patter to quiet self revelation are riveting and entirely believable.

Olsen's Valerie is a listener in this tiny universe of talkers: Her story comes clear only in the last minutes of the production. On the second night of performances, Olsen seemed less at ease with the patter and rhythms that drive these characters. Still, as her sad and incredible story unfolded, it was easy to forget the missteps. Her tears were entirely natural and quite moving.

And their Irish accents? Largely quite believable.

"The Weir"

Who: TheatreWorks

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Feb. 8, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 9

Where: Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 3955 Regent Circle

Tickets: $35, $15 ages 15 and younger, free UCCS students, no kids under 5, not recommended for ages 12 and under; 255-3232, theatreworkscs.org

Something else: "The Weir" is replete with profanity.

Grade: A-

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