In today’s Wall Street Journal I review two major off-Broadway revivals of Conor McPherson’s The Weir and Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder. The first is extraordinary, the second very problematic. Here’s an excerpt.
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Theater starts with storytelling, of which ghost stories are the most primal kind. This helps to explain the long-lasting appeal of Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” whose successful 1999 Broadway run introduced New York playgoers to the most admired Irish playwright of his generation. “The Weir” consists of four ghost stories told by a quartet of drinkers who find themselves spending a stormy evening together at a rural Irish pub. On the surface, that’s all there is to it, but scratch the surface and “The Weir” proves to be a profound meditation on the twin themes of loneliness and community, told so theatrically that you’ll savor each peat-scented phrase. The trick is to get the details right, and the Irish Repertory Theatre’s revival, staged with sure-footed simplicity by Ciarán O’Reilly, is totally believable. From the inch-thick brogues of the actors to the neon signs on the walls of the barroom set, it’s as convincing as a deathbed confession.
Deceptive simplicity is the hallmark of “The Weir,” which has just five characters, a bartender (Billy Carter), three regulars (Dan Butler, Sean Gormley and John Keating) and an outsider, a young woman named Valerie (Tessa Klein) who has moved to the rural village where the play is set to find peace and quiet. Small-town life, of course, is never as quiet as it looks from the outside–Mr. McPherson hints at the daily vexations that arise from seeing the same small group of people day after day after day–but Valerie has brought her own turmoil with her, and no sooner do her new friends tell their elaborate stories of spooky doings than she ups the ante with a tale of terror that turns out to be both true and tragic.
“The Weir” is carefully structured to build up to Valerie’s big scene, and Ms. Klein knows how to deliver the payoff. Even during the first part of the play, when she does little but react shyly to the other characters, your eye keeps flicking to her, and you won’t be able to look anywhere else once she takes center stage….
John Turturro is an actor so distinctive in style that he can easily swamp a play to which he isn’t closely suited. While he couldn’t have been better as the pathetically ludicrous Lopakhin of Andrei Belgrader’s 2011 Classic Stage Company revival of “The Cherry Orchard,” the two men have fired wide of the target with Henrik Ibsen’s “The Master Builder,” in which Mr. Turturro plays an aging architect whose comfortable life is disrupted by a surprise visit from a pretty nymphet (Wrenn Schmidt) with mayhem on her mind. The seven members of the cast are all highly accomplished performers, but no two of them seem to be acting in the same show, and Ibsen’s uneasy but thought-provoking mixture of naturalism and symbolism (who is that girl, anyway?) has been transformed by Mr. Belgrader into a cartoonish stage portrayal of a midlife crisis…
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for The Weir: