No world culture has had more impact on South Coast Repertory's choice of plays over its first 45 years than the Irish. There's just something about the Emerald Isle that brings out the robustness in an SCR production.
The company's latest import from Ireland is "The Weir," Conor McPherson's modern tale of four tipsy Irishmen spinning ghost stories from the past between drinks at a rural pub.
Director Warner Shook's production reeks of atmosphere, dotted by superlative interpretations, but playwright McPherson has provided little else in the way of cohesion to stitch the story together. The first 20 minutes are almost incomprehensible as the characters indulge in heavily accented small talk before the richly-flavored monologues begin.
"The Weir" (a dam-like boundary on a river, altering the water's flow) brings four old (and young) cronies and a female visitor together for an evening of heavy drinking and spooky storytelling. Each anecdote seems to surpass the previous one for shudder-inducing impact.
First among equals in a fine ensemble is Richard Doyle, an SCR founding artist who just seems to get better with age. Doyle plays Jack, a tavern regular, lifelong bachelor and garrulous conversationalist who both begins and ends the rounds of chatter, drawing sympathy for a wasted life of missed opportunities.
James Lancaster has the showiest role of Finbar, the only married man in the group, who's squiring a female visitor (Kirsten Potter) newly arrived in the town. Lancaster revels in his imagined superiority and spins one of the creepiest yarns.
He's surpassed, however, in weirdness by the next storyteller, Daniel Reichert's Jim, a quiet, unassuming chap. Reichert tucks himself away in a far corner to resurrect the tale of a grave digger's horrific experience on a dark and stormy night.
For all their colorful repartee, however, the men are set aback when Potter recounts her harrowing account involving her daughter's tragic swimming mishap. Potter has little to do through most of the play, but this single monologue brings her character sharply into focus.
Through it all, Tony Ward's Brendan, the pub's young proprietor, casts an amiable figure, blending in with the locals but not contributing to the reminiscences.
Thomas Buderwitz's richly detailed setting, piled high with bottles of liquor waiting to be quaffed, offers an enormous atmospheric touch, abetted by Angela Balogh Calin's downscale costumes and Peter Maradudin's detailed lighting designs.
"The Weir" eschews conventional dramatic form in favor of heavy doses of spellbinding individual accounts. It's both annoying and involving at South Coast Repertory.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "The Weir"
Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:45 p.m., 2 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until April 3
Call: (714) 708-5555