REVIEW: The Weir (Seanachai Theatre)

 

Irish Eeriness Done Right

 

from left, Valerie (Sarah Wellington), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Jack (Brad Armacost) have great craic in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photo courtesy of Eileen Molony.

   
Seanachai Theatre Company presents
   
The Weir
   
Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by
Matt Miller
Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox (map)
through October 3  |  tickets: $22-$26  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Considering the resumes of those involved, it’s surprising that Seanachai’s production of The Weir went unmentioned in many of those “fall previews” the theatre press is so fond of. First off, the play was penned by a young Conor McPherson, the Irishman who also wrote The Seafarer and Shining City. Both of those had hugely successful Chicago premiers at Steppenwolf and the Goodman, respectively. To  direct, Seanachai nabbed Matt Miller, the one behind the much-hyped Finbar (Kevin Theis, right) and Jack (Brad Armacost, left) have it out in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Molony.Graceland (our review ★★★) at Profiles Theatre last year. And the small cast includes local stage stars like Sarah Wellington and Brad Armacost. Brad Smith, the youngest actor on-stage, even had a song featured on the “Up in the Air soundtrack. There’s so many accomplishments listed in each bio, I’m a little surprised the program didn’t explode.

What the lean, focused production made clear, however, is that Seanachai spent their time creating a terrific product instead of manufacturing buzz.

The talky play is a perfect fit for Gaelic-centric Seanachai and their ensemble of vibrant storytellers. That’s what the piece is, essentially—a couple rounds of storytelling, all relating brushes with the supernatural. The attractive, urbanite Valerie (Wellington) finds herself in a rural pub usually occupied by several lonely men. The locals attempt to impress her with regional folklore and their meetings with the spirits that inhabit the country alongside them. However, as the beer bottles and dirty glasses pile up, Valerie reveals the most personal and unnerving close encounter of them all.

The set-up might avail itself to some cheap, M. Night Shyamalan twist (“She’s really a ghost!”), but McPherson crafts a tale far richer, as well as much more disturbing. Miller and the cast don’t shock or frighten, but softly drill into the dark parts of the psyche.

Like most of McPherson’s other tales, the show boils down to a few characters sitting around and talking. Does anything actually happen? It’s a valid question. There are only a handful of entrances and exits, and the whole thing takes place in real time with no intermission. Fistful of monologues after fistful of monologues wears you down after awhile. However, when one goes a level deeper, they find that McPherson is fiercely concerned with his characters’ internal struggles and the small, everyday friendships that keep us all sane. The script might make a slow pace appealing to a lesser director, but that would be suicide. The performers here know to keep moving at a fast clip while choosing moments to open up the play so the audience stays hungry.

from left, Jack (Brad Armacost), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Finbar (Kevin Theis), try to curry favor with Valerie (Sarah Wellington) by sharing betting tips, in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Molony.

The play opens with Brendan (Smith), the owner of the bar, and Jack (Armacost), his best customer. Armacost goads, blathers, and flirts with the hilarious disregard of an aging bachelor. He also manages to drag the audience along the hills and valleys of loneliness and redemption. Smith retains an aloofness that occasionally borders on being uninteresting, but he stays plugged in with the rest of the cast over the duration, playing along with the more eccentric patrons of his bar. Jeff Christian exudes all sorts of awkward charm as the tightlipped Jim, a man that can get closer to horseracing statistics than other people. Kevin Theis’s Finbar, the married man who takes it upon himself to show Valerie around town, rotates between sliminess and sincerity. Even though the character is obviously a tool, Theis musters up enough charm to make sure that the audience can never really hate him. The heart of the show, though, is Wellington’s Valerie. Through the course of the play, she moves from a passive object of affection to a revealer of heartwrenching yet relatable experiences. And Wellington truly shines, never shying away from visiting the most vulnerable parts of herself.

Irish writers are known for their lyricism and long-windedness, and Seanachai eats it up. With The Weir, Miller spits out a dialogue-packed product that’s still able to tap into our deepest fears of the unknown. I’m guessing the buzz will quickly mount.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
    
    

The Weir - Seanachai Theatre 02

   
   

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Review: “Lies and Liars” by Theatre Seven of Chicago

Can We Handle the Truth?

 Lies & Liars

Theatre Seven of Chicago at Chicago Dramatists presents

Lies and Liars
Conceived and directed by Margot Bordelon and Cassy Sanderson
Thru August 30 (buy tickets)
Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Margot Bordelon and Cassy Sanderson created and directed Lies & Liars, which investigates the nature of lies and whether our lives would really be better off if we always knew the truth. The story utilized to present the grey area between truth and dishonesty is told through the employees of an international lie protection agency (ALCOR) located in Chicago. In this office holds everyone’s files containing the vast number of lies that have been told to them, including the employees.

Lies & Liars Courtney O’Neil has designed the stage as an average office space separated into individual cubicles by portable walls which are frequently moved around to change the stage to another space/floor within the office. Each employee is introduced with a Zach Morris-style freeze-frame moment (ala Saved By The Bell) where the stage is darkened except for the spot light on the actress/actor and a short humorous bio of the character is displayed. The story follows a newly hired janitor Ben (Brad Smith) as he frets about his recent break-up with his girlfriend and is tempted with the ability to know the truth by reading his own file. As the play develops the scenes change in a rhythmic movement that is at first entertaining, but the constant unnecessary shifting between sets interrupts the character development and loose its clever quality after the first few times it is done.

Lies & Liars The idea of exploring the necessity of lies, and the impact it would have on our lives if we knew the truth about everything and everyone around us is interesting and holds the potential for a meaningful reflection on human nature. Lies & Liars falls short in its effort to question the depth of the nature of lies and its impact on its characters. The script does nothing to further give insight in to the subject matter of truth, and the presentation is plain yet saved by the chemistry and top-notch performance of the cast.

From the opening of the play, Vikki (Marjorie Armstrong) steals the show. Her physical concoctions have you giggling in your seat. She brings life into her character with the stress in her face and a hump in her back. Constantly pushing her body to the extreme of ridiculous, she never even moves a finger without it being in-line with her character. It is the tremendously physical acting with in the whole cast that brings out the personalities of the characters. The script lacks meaningful dialogue that would Lies & Liarsengage the audience and help us understand the emotions and thought process of the characters but the actress/actors make up for the lack of words with their absurd and subtle physical interactions on stage.

The motivations to lie  is explored and classifications and rationalizations are given for why people hide the truth and the possible importance for the existence of dishonesty, although if you are looking for a thought provoking play or even a new perspective on the subject you will be surely disappointed. In the end, the intriguing premise of Lies & Liars by Theatre Seven remains underdeveloped.  Thankfully, however, the acting remained creatively entertaining throughout. So, if you are looking for a meaningless fun time and a chance to see a cast of young rising stars, check out Lies & Liars at Chicago Dramatist.

Rating: «½

 

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