A converted automotive garage makes the ideal climate for an Irish pub. Mother Road Theatre Company takes advantage of this character quirk in its theater space, The Filling Station, to perform Conor McPherson's The Weir, which opened on Sept. 19.
The '30s full-service gas station was transformed into a modern art space by David Sinkus and Beth Bailey. Now The Filling Station hosts a number of events, including classical music at The Church of Beethoven, multigenre open mics during The Sunday Sessions, visual art displays and now a happy hour at a homey Irish pub.
The black concrete box theater is dark and slightly damp, creating the impression of a looming storm just outside its walls. Inside is a section of an Irish watering hole—a counter, mirrors on the walls, a cast-iron stove in the corner, wooden doors, Guinness on tap and dim lighting. The setting is clear and invites the audience to enter McPherson's Irish countryside tale.
The Weir begins with a few verses of a traditional Irish ditty playing as if from the bar’s radio. As the song fades, Jack (Alan Hudson) enters the pub and continues to sing where the tune drops off. He fusses with the Guinness tap, only to find it's broken, and settles for a bottle instead. Brendan (Morse Bicknell), the owner and barkeep, arrives soon after, unsurprised by Jack's early arrival. The two drink and gossip and are eventually joined by Jim (Tom Schuch), Finbar (William Sterchi) and Valerie (Kate Schroeder). Valerie is new to town, and the local inn owner, Finbar, has taken it upon himself to show her around—Brendan's bar being the last stop of the evening. The topic of conversation turns from casual niceties to otherworldly encounters, causing Valerie observable distress. By the end of the night, the reason for her reaction is revealed and the cozy feel of the bar takes an eerie turn.
“Mother Road has assembled a top-notch performance with The Weir.”
What sells The Weir immediately is the set, designed by Peter Crawford and director Vic Browder. With a coatrack leaning against a wooden support beam, it's hard to fight the temptation to hang your jacket, walk along the wooden floor and take a seat at the bar. To satiate this craving, the design team added a few small, round tables along the edge of the ground-level stage where audience members can sit as though they’re patrons of the pub. Also, every Saturday during the run of The Weir, a local Irish band (either 5 Bucks a Month or Celtic Coyotes) performs after the show with Tractor Brewing Co. providing beer and wine service. If The Filling Station and Mother Road didn't have future evening plans for the space, they should consider adding a Saturday service to The Church of Beethoven, only with Irish jigs and pints instead of cellos and lattes.
The cast members are splendid at carving each character’s place within the story. They carry their Irish accents well, although it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes to acclimate to the dialect, causing a few initial jokes to be lost. Once the flow is established, the play continues into the Irish evening.
All the performances are tight and well-executed. Hudson plays an oddly likable drunk as Jack. Bicknell is nonchalant as the barkeep. Schuch is quiet and observant as Jim, releasing welled-up secrets while recounting a frightening experience. Schroeder is attentive as Valerie, staying engaged in the men’s stories, which gives her own confession more weight. Sterchi, as the larger-than-life Finbar, manages to steal the show for a few minutes during his ghost story—it is paralyzing. Sterchi uses his precise comic timing to rattle everyone back from the spirit world.
Mother Road has assembled a top-notch performance with The Weir. There are a few hiccups—a lighting problem makes it hard to see the actors’ faces in one corner, and there are occasional slips into accents more Minnesotan than Irish—but they are minor overall.
McPherson's play is so very Irish. The Weir is a window in the Emerald Isle's countryside and especially speaks to those who visited (or long to visit) the land of the faeries. But that's not to say the play will be lost on those with little to no connection with Ireland. McPherson's story is a human one. It may play to the stereotype that the Irish love to drink, but at its heart, The Weir speaks to something we all possess—fear.