Weir: A haunting effort by School of Dance

By Jessica Cabe

Life is full of ghost stories.

Some rely on fear, some on loss and others on regret. But if there is one lesson to be learned from the School of Theatre and Dance’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir, it is that all humans are haunted.

The play is set in an Irish pub and relies heavily upon storytelling and character development. The small, intimate Players Theatre is the perfect space for the show, said director Patricia Skarbinski. She said, unlike the larger O’Connell Theatre, the Players Theatre allows the audience to connect with the actors. The seating circles around the stage and engages the audience members in a way that makes them feel as though they are part of the story.

The show centers on five main characters who have gathered in the pub for various reasons. Jack, played by Bill Gordon, is a regular and a typical country boy. Brendan, played by Ben Park, is the bartender who facilitates the drinking that encourages the storytelling. James, played by Jacob Lee Smith, is a friend of them both who has also never left the country. Finbar, played by Nicholas Ferrucei, is a wealthy man who left the country and made something of himself, sparking animosity from the other three men. And the woman who brings them all together, Valerie, played by Charlotte Fox, is a visitor from Dublin who needs a little bit of quiet in her life.

Skarbinski said one of the greatest challenges of the production was on the actors’ shoulders. Because of the Irish setting, the cast had to perfect an Irish accent without sounding “like a leprechaun.” Having students in their 20s believably take on roles of middle-aged Irish men and women posed the greatest challenge, but the actors faced it bravely and came out on the other side victorious.

As the show progresses, the stories the characters tell paint a more detailed picture of their lives.

The main subject of these stories revolves around some kind of ghost or haunting. Jack begins by telling the story of the “Fairy Road” that passes through the house Valerie is staying in. Years ago, a woman and her daughter lived in that house and claimed there was knocking on the doors and windows, but nobody was ever seen. Finally, a priest blessed the house and the knocking stopped, though the woman said it began again when construction went underway on the weir in town.

Other stories include a man telling James where to dig his grave and a little girl who died calling her mother on the telephone days after her own funeral.

There are various entertaining aspects of The Weir. Comedy is a huge factor in the play, but also extremely serious topics like the death of a child as well as the death of hope for true love.

“Honestly, speaking to a college audience, I think they’ll love the cursing and drinking,” Skarbinski said. “They’ll also enjoy following [the characters’] lives.”

College students may know a lot about the emotional complications involved when some friends move away. Many will relate to the animosity and longing illustrated in the play.

“It’s a story about life,” Skarbinski said. “It captures friendship really well and the passage of time.”