It didn't take long, after temporarily closing its doors in March, for Off-Broadway's Irish Repertory Theatre to get some virtual programming up and running. In May, the company reunited part of the cast of its 2011 production of Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney, re-imagined for the online space, for a limited run. The show was an extended and acclaimed success, prompting the theatre to launch a full virtual season later that month.
A Performance on Screen series continues through the summer, with the latest offering a re-imagined staging of Irish Rep's 2013 production of The Weir. Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, the online presentation of the Conor McPherson play (which was revived again in 2015) runs July 21–25.
Set in a remote country pub in Ireland, The Weir kicks off as newcomer Valerie joins a group of local drinkers. With the wind whistling outside, the evening turns dark as ghostly stories drift into something more.
We asked the cast (some of whom have starred in the play with Irish Rep twice) and director O’Reilly to share some favorite memories from past productions, as well as what makes this play a classic.
To view the performances, audience members must register at IrishRep.org.
Year of previous performance in The Weir: 2013, 2015
Part played, then and now: Jim
A favorite memory from the original run: I’d never quite understood what people in theatre refer to as the shared rhythm, almost a shared breathing, between audience and actors in a play, until the first week of previews for The Weir. Suddenly there it was, time after time. Amazing.
A reason I love this play is because I think McPherson brilliantly captures the Irish reputation for storytelling, and in its purest form.
Year of previous performance in The Weir:: 2013, 2015.
Part played, then and now: Finbar
A favorite memory from the original run: There was an audience section that came on to the stage, so there were people right there in the bar with us! In the front row was a gentleman with a seeing-eye dog at his feet. A beautiful black lab. The dog had its chin on outstretched paws and was totally focused on the show. Its eyes and ears seemed to follow our every word and gesture. I felt like if I had an untruthful moment the dog would know. My favorite audience member ever!
A reason I love this play is it demands as much from listening as it does from speaking. It gives equal weight to both.
Year of previous performance in The Weir: 2015
Part played, then and now: Valerie
A favorite memory from the original run: The quality of listening from the audience was very distinct. The play has a certain rhythm it invites the audience into—it slows them down and asks them to listen deeply to long-form storytelling, something we don’t get to do often enough. Each night, it was as if the play’s language cast a spell, and it was so fulfilling to perform it.
A reason I love this play is it’s one of the only plays I can think of that takes on loneliness so directly, and speaks to the power of storytelling as a way to soothe it.
Year of previous performance in The Weir: 2015
Part played, then and now: Brendan
A favorite memory from the original run: I’m afraid I wasn’t in the original run, but I loved playing the final scene with Valerie and Jack.
A reason I love this play is its lonely peaceful waters run deep.
Year of previous performance in The Weir: 2013
Part played, then and now: Jack
A favorite memory from the original run: As you know, a lot of drinking takes place in the show—stout, Harps, and whiskey. One night our tap broke at the beginning of the performance, so every time someone ordered a pint we had to change the line to a whiskey. By the end of the night most of us would have imbibed an entire bottle and would probably have been on the floor. A close second memory, at that time the audience set-up had a small section off stage right and the set design had branches and leaves at the edge of the stage boundary. One night a patron brought his two younger daughters to the play and let them get down on the floor and play with the branches all through the performance, whopping them on the floor and waving them through the air like wands. It wasn't distracting at all.
A reason I love this play is the great stories I get to listen to and tell during the course of the evening. This disparate group of people brought together this one night, moved to share their private hauntings, with such beautiful, empathetic language and storytelling ability wrought by Conor McPherson. It is a pleasure, joy, and honor to return to this wonderful material.
Director Ciarán O’Reilly
A reason I love this play is the sheer authenticity of it. I grew up in a rural community not very many miles from where the play is set. My family owned a pub, which was ran by my brother Seamus. He often left the pub in the middle of the day to go on errands that could take him away for hours. He would never lock the door so if a local stopped by for a drink, they would just go behind the bar and help themselves and put the money in the till. There is a warmth and gentleness about the characters of the play that makes me feel that for those couple of hours you are in their company, all is right with the world.
A favorite memory from the original run: Arriving at a performance one evening early before the house opened and discovering a member of the audience up on the stage standing at the bar waiting to be served. Somehow she had eluded the house-management and was crushed when I wasn’t able to provide her with a pint of Guinness.