Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by Anne Marie Szucs
Starring Justin Deveau, Gwyneth Kellii, Kieran O’Callaghan, Gavin O’Toole, Cody Porter
Runs Wednesday, Oct. 17 - Saturday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m., matinée show Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. No show on Monday, Oct. 22.
Walterdale Playhouse (10322 83 Ave.)
Starting at $12 at tixonthesquare.ca
As Halloween approaches, it brings with it haunting tales of ghostly spirits, unexplainable occurrences and the Walterdale Playhouse’s eerie production of The Weir. Appropriate to the season’s theme of “Retrospective,” The Weir takes a look at the significance of one’s past through the perspective of rural Irish pub-goers, all the while mixing in a healthy dose of traditional Irish superstitions and the supernatural.
Marking the opening of Walterdale Playhouse’s 54th season, The Weir explores the power of stories and how they connect people to the past. Written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, the play follows five characters in a rural Irish pub as they tell folk tales, reveal the secrets of their past and yes, drink lots of beer.
“(The characters) are really caught in the past, and part of this play is their breaking down of the barrier, or the weir, and the idea of letting healing occur,” says director Anne Marie Szucs. “If there is something traumatic that happens to you in the past, you don’t really deal with it. It just sort of stays there until something lets it out.”
This is the second time Szucs has taken the reins of Walterdale’s annual donor-voted show. As luck would have it, Szucs was planning to go to Europe this past summer, and after agreeing to direct Irish play The Weir, she added Ireland to her itinerary. Once in Dublin, Szucs was able to do some “pub research” before delving into rehearsals of the play, even indulging herself in classic Irish beers like Guinness for the first time.
“What I felt and absorbed in Dublin was the warmth of the pubs. There was literally a pub every half a block, if not more so,” Szucs says of her trip. “What’s fascinating is that each pub has its own group of regulars. It’s their community.”
Szucs hopes this sense of a strong Irish community carries over into their production of The Weir. It helps that two of the cast members, Gavin O’Toole and Kieran O’Callaghan, were
actually born and raised in a different part of Ireland. Providing insights to small commonalities of the average Irish pub, O’Callaghan and O’Toole filled the director in on details like the type of glass that goes with each beer and the customary way of paying the bartender by sliding the money across the bar. Their inside knowledge of their homeland proved useful in helping the rest of the cast develop Irish mannerisms that Szucs calls “Irishisms.”
But the Irish realism that Szucs is striving for comes not only from detailed characteristics, but also the historic veracity of the script. Dublin-born O’Callaghan, who plays the role of the bartender, emphasizes the importance of Irish traditions in the play.
“It’s part of the way people talk and tell stories,” he says. “An Irish author said once that Irish people were prisoners of the past, which is a bit of a bleak way of looking at it, but the past is very important to Irish people — where they are and where they come from.”
Still, the supernatural folk tale elements in The Weir aren’t just ghost stories meant to spook people. O’Callaghan explains that in order to fully appreciate the play, it’s necessary to understand that these stories hold a greater purpose to the Irish than simply being frightening.
“I lived in the country for a good few years, and would meet people all of the time who would explain things happening in their lives in terms of stories and beliefs,” he explains.
“(It’s) a kind of a mindset that they had inherited down through the centuries. It’s kind of mystical and mysterious, and always connected to the past.”
Szucs’ research trip to Ireland and the presence of O’Callaghan and O’Toole provide a great platform for the production, and add to the play’s Irish authenticity. Whether or not you’re a fan of ghost stories, The Weir offers insight into the traditions of Irish folklore and explores the bonding power of tales.
“This play unfolds in an unusual way,” says O’Callaghan. “If people come with an open mind they will (not only) be entertained, (but also) hear some great stories.”
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