Sean Gormley, Tessa Klein, and Dan Butler in <i>The Weir</i>
Sean Gormley, Tessa Klein, and Dan Butler in The Weir
(© Carol Rosegg)
Theatergoers who live alone — or are easily frightened — are advised to attend a matinee of Conor McPherson's powerful 1997 drama The Weir, which is receiving a highly accomplished revival at Irish Repertory Theatre. After hearing the spooky stories shared by McPherson's lonely, tortured souls, you run the risk of hearing creaks in your own floorboards or seeing ghosts outside your window as you try to sleep.

The play, like much of McPherson's works, begins deceptively enough, as cantankerous garage owner Jack (Dan Butler) and sweet-natured associate Jimmy (John Keating) shoot the breeze with local bar owner Brendan (Billy Carter). The main conversations at hand are of the howling wind and the impending arrival of Finbar (Sean Gormley), a successful, married hotelier, with the much younger Valerie (Tessa Klein), who has just moved to this small Irish village from Dublin.

Once everyone is gathered in Brendan's homey establishment (realistically rendered by Charlie Corcoran), the beer and liquor flow freely along with the gab. Slightly shy but basically cheerful, Valerie grows quietly shaken as the men take turns sharing their recollections of possible supernatural encounters. Under Ciarán O'Reilly's sensitive direction, this troupe of fine actors delivers the goods, keeping us rapt, occasionally amused, and decidedly chilled. (Only Brendan, embodied with quiet dignity by Carter, seems to have been spared his own dark night of the soul.)

It's not altogether surprising that Valerie eventually reveals her own inexplicable experience, which happened back in Dublin not long after a devastating family tragedy. This explains her mysterious decision to live alone in the Irish countryside. Klein's work is quite moving, as the actress wisely neither overplays nor underplays the telling of Valerie's shattering story.

However, the strongest writing in The Weir can be found in the play's final monologue, in which Jack recalls how he let his fear and pride stop him from marrying his girlfriend three decades ago — a decision that still haunts him. Butler, who throughout the play has brought flinty humor and a filthy mouth to Jack, is heartbreaking in this section.

We suspect that Jack has aimed this story at Valerie and the unmarried Brendan as a warning not to follow in his footsteps. But the message is all for us: McPherson's play is, on one level, a cautionary tale about the dangers of loneliness and the need to connect with other human beings. But The Weir is also a grand testament to the power of storytelling and imagination. Even if you're not inclined to believe in ghosts and fairies, you might reconsider your prejudices by the end of this 90-minute work.