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Reviews for Theatre Banshee's The Weir

Winner - Best Performance in a Leading Role: Barry Lynch,
Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle

Winner - Best Supporting Actor: Dan Harper
Valley Theatre League ADA Awards

Winner - Best Performance: Barry Lynch
Back Stage West Garland Awards

Nominated - Best Production of a Revival: The Weir
LA Weekly Awards

Nominated - Best Director: Sean Branney, LA Weekly Awards

Nominated - Best Set: Arthur MacBride, LA Weekly Awards


THE WEIR

They tell stories, they do, in this small rural bar in the golden glow of an Irish evening. They meet here most nights, and know each other so well that when bartender Brendan is in the house next to the bar, regular customer Jack helps himself to his drink and puts his money in the till. Soon others arrive, neighbor Jim, and a local who has moved to and made good in the city, Finbar, and his guest Valerie, who is new to the neighborhood and being shown around by Finbar. A warm fire breathes comfort and relaxation into the room, and sets the scene for the stories they all tell.

It's a sort of magical play, which didn't have this sense of wonder and marvelous fun in its original Los Angeles production at the Geffen last year. The current production began life at Burbank's Gene Bua Theatre and was a charmer, faster paced than at the Geffen, and full of the aura it needs under Sean Branney's superbly wise and adept direction. Branney knows the territory in all its fascinating detail, along with its dark and bright shadings and its typical rhythms which feel as though they're back home again in Eire.

The production has reopened and is currently playing at North Hollywood's Celtic Arts Center, and it's still a joy to behold. The space is smaller, the set a bit more constricted, but it doesn't matter one bit to this bravura performance. The friends, and the new lady in their midst play with and against each other with finely-honed precision and a sense of running subtext that still gives weight and import to the characterizations and the significance of the yarns they weave.

Although Brian McCole, the only new performer in this continuation of the run, as bartender Brendan, doesn't have the depth and bright shadings of the original actor he blends well into the ensemble and its shape. Dan Harper is still affecting and colorful as handyman Jim, as is Andrew Leman as Finbar, the sort of lumpy chap the boys at school would have deprived of his pants on a regular basis; Leman's Finbar has grown beyond that running worry, but still is concerned about his acceptance. Leslie Baldwin repeats her solid, no nonsense performance as Valerie, but this time around seems more detailed, more into her character and Valerie's subtle background of problems. The performance of the evening is still Barry Lynch's as Jack, the oldest of the group, smooth, volatile, ultimately shedding just a wee light into Jack's own uncertainties and niceness, and throughout breathing the human fire that is at the center of this marvelous evening.

ShowMag.com, Reviewed by T.H. McCulloh



"The Ghost of Loss Haunts Characters of 'The Weir' - LA Times

What begins as an ordinary ghost story yields lightning glimpses of tragedy in "The Weir," now being presented by Theatre Banshee at the Gene Bua Theatre. Conor McPherson's much-produced play, seen last year at the Geffen Playhouse, is deceptively simple in structure: a boozy fireside chat about local haunts and legends--until an unexpected revelation skews the play in a wrenching new direction.

McPherson understands that any good ghost story requires just the right setting, and what could be more evocative than an isolated Irish pub with a good peat fire on the hearth? Arthur MacBride's meticulously realized set makes it easy to understand why pubs are alternately referred to as "snugs" in the local idiom, although MacBride's lighting seems a bit bright for the intended ambience. Nevertheless, it's an inviting haven, and the winds roaring outside, courtesy of Erik Hockman and Clayton Tripp's sound design, make it doubly cozy.

The pub's proprietor, Brendan (Douglas Leal), is an affluent local landowner and a confirmed bachelor, as are most of his regular patrons. For Jack (Barry Lynch), an unmarried mechanic, and for Jim (Dan Harper), a handyman who still lives with his mother, the pub provides nightly company, not to mention plenty of Guinness--a liquid buffer against the emotional isolation that is their usual lot.

Into this assemblage of battered yearners comes Valerie (Leslie Baldwin), an attractive outsider who has just bought a house in the area. She is escorted by Finbar (Andrew Leman), a married man who moved to the big city and made a fortune in real estate and the hotel trade. Brimming with drink and blarney, Jack sets the mood with a favorite local legend, followed in quick succession by Finbar's and Jim's ghostly yarns. But through their covert competition for Valerie's attention, the men have unwittingly set the stage for Valerie's own shocking disclosure.

In his small but richly humane story about loss and loneliness and the pitfalls of human love, McPherson accomplishes exactly what he sets out to do, quietly and efficiently. So does director Sean Branney, whose marvelous cast strikes just the right half-note between comedy and bleakness, with lashings of gallows humor to mitigate the pathos.

If there is any single component given short shrift in Branney's staging, it's the lustful undercurrents of these men, who seem too willing to accept Valerie as a sexless new friend. Otherwise, this is a story well woven, and the performers, particularly Leman and Lynch, swaddle us in the warm folds of the narrative with consummate and comfortable skill."

The Los Angeles Times, Reviewed by F. Kathleen Foley


Critic's Pick - Backstage West

"On the surface, there's not a lot going on in Conor McPherson's play. Five people—four local men and the new woman in town—drink and tell stories in a pub in a small Irish village. No high drama, no major conflict, no traditional story arc. Why then is it so captivating? Why are we so moved by the end? Aside from good acting, tight direction, and a beautiful script, it's because the basic need for companionship and the need to communicate is as essential to life as air. We identify with these five because we understand their weaknesses, we long to unburden ourselves of our own stories—good and bad—and we lead lonely lives if we're not sharing ourselves with others.

This simple little production is fantastic. Director Sean Branney and his great cast keep things moving at a steady, natural pace, taking time for silences between spurts of speedy Irish chatter. Each actor gets his or her share of storytelling time, but storytellers need listeners, and everyone in this ensemble takes care to listen. Dan Harper, Leslie Baldwin, and Douglas Leal give wonderfully rich, quiet performances; Harper and Leal are especially good at conveying much without many words. Andrew Leman skillfully finds many layers in his character, the only financially successful one of the bunch. And Barry Lynch is extraordinary as the cantankerous and sagacious old man of the town. His monologue about his character's lost love and youthful mistakes is so surprising and powerful it takes one's breath away. Like much of the play, it approaches and washes over us slowly, avoiding crass melodrama.

Arthur MacBride's intimate scenic and lighting designs combine with Laura Brody's costumes and Erik Hockman and Clayton Tripp's stormy sound design to create a lovely setting in this wee Irish pub on a chilly, spooky night.

We don't want this play to end. We're so into the rhythms of the language, the jokes and the revelations, that it feels as if we're part of this place. Some of the characters disclose specific events and feelings that haunt them; others are more guarded. But we care deeply about each of them, as all five are desperate to connect. Their association is not a result of their desperation but a partial cure.

This production succeeds on so many levels. Among other things, it reminds us that if we keep our pain, loss, and memories to ourselves, life is unbearably desolate.

Backstage West, Reviewed By Jesse Dienstag


McPherson's 'Weir' Gets Spirited Treatment

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Theater Banshee's captivating production of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's intimate one-acter proves there is potentially more tangible eerieness within a quietly told ghost story than in the sound and fury of any spook pic.

Winner of the 1999 Olivier Award for best play on London's West End, this deceptively simple tale follows the nightly ritual of the regulars at a local pub in a remote area in the West of Ireland, whose normal routine is upset by the arrival of a young woman from Dublin. Helmer Sean Branney guides an excellent five-member cast through every nuance of the shifting dynamics as each man vies to make an impression on this attractive stranger.

The action is perfectly framed within Arthur MacBride's beautifully wrought set that evokes the atmosphere of a well-worn local hangout that has hosted millions of rounds of Guinness, lubricating endless nights of aimless "craic" (chat). The talk and longtime camaraderie among barkeep Brendan (Douglas Leal), local workman Jim (Dan Harper) and aging garage owner Jack (Barry Lynch) has no other purpose than to fill the space between gulps.

McPherson's dialogue is deliciously inconsequential, and Branney wisely eases the audience into the cadence of the banter: Brendan is annoyed that his visiting sisters are after him to sell off a bit of the family property; Jack is mildly mortified that the pub's Guinness dispenser is out of order, and he must get his brew out of a bottle; Jim, who is saddled with a sick mother at home, is simply glad to flow with the glow of his friends, chatting about the chilly storm that appears to be settling in and agreeing to help Jack with some auto maintenance the next morning.

Scripter McPherson is merely setting up the drama that will unfold when overly cheerful Finbar (Andrew Leman), a local lad who has achieved a modicum of financial success, arrives with Valerie (Leslie Baldwin), a handsome but quiet-spoken woman to whom he has just sold a house in the village.

The men know the house very well, and soon the conversation turns to their collective memory of a ghostly happening in the house that occurred long ago. Almost as a way of introducing himself to her, each man is then motivated to recount an ethereal incident from his own past. McPherson saves the best for last, however, when the somberly attentive Valerie unveils the horrific experience with the supernatural that has led her to seek out the solitude of the village.

The ensemble engulfs the dialogue within their richly detailed characterizations. Lynch (a founding member of the Celtic Arts Center) is perfect as the cantankerous Jack, a lifelong bachelor who regrets every day of his life the youthful foolishness that lost him his one true love. Baldwin travels the gamut of emotions as she segues seamlessly from polite audience to hypnotizing storyteller, relating her chilling tale as if it were being ripped from the depths of her soul.

Harper is endearing as Jim, a goodhearted pub pal who has never developed all the faculties necessary to become a complete being on his own. There is an effecting aura of sadness surrounding Leal's portrayal of Brendon, who is more than burdened by his responsibilities in life. Leman is a hoot as doltish, florid-faced Finbar, blatantly proud of his success but lacking the nerve to act on his impulse to make a move on Valerie.

Complementing the proceedings are the evocative costumes of Laura Brody. The wind-swept sounds of Eric Hockman/Clayton Tripp give ample evidence of the inhospitable environment that surrounds this quintet of needy souls within the womblike comfort of the pub.

Variety, Reviewed by Julio Martinez


Pick of the Week - LA Weekly


"The title of Conor McPherson's now well-traveled 1997 play refers to a dam or levee that stops or redirects a river's flow. Images of water and cold permeate this beautifully crafted interplay of monologues, as a rural Irish barkeep (Douglas Leal), his two regulars (Dan Harper and Barry Lynch), a returned old acquaintance (Andrew Leman) and a sad stranger (Leslie Baldwin) swap eerie yarns on a lonely, windy night. Each tale begins as a professed truth, but soon veers into the supernatural. Protective humor sustains a lightness for a while, but ultimately no dam can hold back the torrents of emotion that inhabit the desolate tavern. With impeccable brogues that never take center stage, the performers create tenderly sculpted characters. Sean Branney's simple, assured direction focuses so clearly on character and language that the need for a plot or major conflict seems irrelevant. Arthur MacBride's evocative set design, enhanced by Erik Hockman and Clayton Tripp's haunting sound design, provides just enough reality to define the play's sad, deeply affecting world."

LA Weekly, Reviewed by Tom Provenzano


Stage Spot - Backstage West

Conor McPherson's The Weir brings together five loney-hearts who tell ghost stories on a chilly Irish night. This Theatre Banshee production also infuses the work with congeniality, humor and warmth. Among its fine ensemble, the standout is Barry Lynch, whose hale Jack is in essence our host for the evening, setting us on spellbinding journey of the imagination.

Lynch's Jack enters to an empty stage, which he must prepare emotionally for the other characters. Lynch does so without the slightest indicating, going about the business of pouring himself a pint with a realism that still manages to fascinate, with tender humor that endears him to us. As each character arrives, Lynch reacts with a slightly different attitude: chummy, businesslike, irritated, and, finally, boyishly excited at meeting the village's young female newcomer -- nothing obvious, but there for the observant viewer. His quick-tempered but kind-hearted Jack is the last person we'd expect to be so lovelorn, so his confession -- essentially his 11 o'clock number -- makes an all-too-human ending for this companionable evening.

The show's director, Sean Branney, noted, "Barry has an innate connection to Ireland and its people; we knew he'd be able to connect to both the humor and the sadness of Jack. Barry's a natural storyteller and has done extensive field research in pubs. He's got an eye for the ladies, an ear for McPherson's naturalistic language, and a thirst for the Guinness. But best of all, he opens himself up wide enough to let a torrent of pain and regret come tumbling out."

Lynch wasn't convinced he wanted to appear in The Weir. "I read the play and thought it could be deadly if not approached the right way," he recalled. "But I sat down with Sean, and we were in agreement." The Brooklyn native noted, "The real trick was to remember how the Irish use humor. They use it as a shield, to protect themselves."

Indeed, in the 90 minutes we're with him, Lynch takes the chill out of the mood, bringing us along for a visit to Ireland and the landscape of Jack's heart.

Backstage West, Dany Margolies


The Weir

The minute you walk into the Celtic Arts Center and see Arthur MacBride's wonderfully cozy set, which he lights with warmth, you feel a hominess, like you want to kick off your shoes and stay awhile. Conor McPherson's "The Weir" takes place in a neighborhood bar somewhere in rural Ireland. The wall is cluttered with framed photos of the area and some of its residents. A rustic fireplace is graced by an inviting rocking chair at its side. Sparse in tables and elegance, this is a place where folks go to be with each other and get a break from the toils of the day. The regulars have made a home of it and it takes on a cordiality that says you are welcome here.

Barkeep, Brendan (Brian McCole) is the youngish proprietor of the pub, but any of its group could walk right in and pour himself a tall-one or draw a pint and just leave payment in the cash box. This is the kind of place we have stumbled into.

As a small group begins to gather for the evening, we meet Jack (Barry Lynch), an older gent with a story to tell. And that's how the evening progresses, with stories of a ghostly manner. Jim (Dan Harper) the local handyman, living with his ill, elderly mother chimes in with an eerie yarn of his own. Enter the businessman, Finbar (Andrew Leman), a local who moved to the city and has become somewhat affluent in the real estate market. Tonight, Finbar has a lovely woman on his arm. Finbar is married and this isn't his wife. So who is this new face? Well, it's Valerie (Leslie Baldwin), a newcomer to the area who has just purchased a house there. Finbar adds his two cents to the evening's roster of truisms, fairytales and legends. The group of men is surprised when Valerie comes up with a little recounting of her own that is a bit from the other side.

This is really an evening which offers monologues and a chance for the players to shine, and shine they do. This is ensemble work of the highest order. Performances are top of the line. Each actor has embraced their character and made it three-dimensional. True, the play itself isn't very exciting and remains no more than a delicious slice of the lives of the tavern goers, but it carries with it a lilt that is as charming as can be. Sean Branney's light-handed direction manages to keep a rather uneventful piece of stage work quite interesting.

LA Drama Critic's Circle, Dave DePino


The Weir Has Strong Direction, Acting - Burbank Leader

Pre-dating Halloween by a few months The Weir is a serpentine tale set in Ireland on a cold, windy night, that brings the patrons of a small pub together for a pint, some company and eventually and exchange of tales about ghosts and fairies.

Theatre Banshee presents this charmingly simple, yet powerful story that explores ideas and beliefs about the supernatural, contrasting them with the coldness of reality and the strength of love.

Author Conor McPherson has drawn some finely detailed and charismatic protagonists, further enhanced by the skillful direction of Sean Branney, who brings out excellent presentations from the actors.

Barry Lynch, as Jack, is the strongest of the men at the pub, literally shoving his opinions and will on everyone. Jim, played by Dan Harper, is a mellow, working-class bloke with a couple of opinions of his own, which often go unnoticed. Douglas Leal, as Brendan, is the typical barkeep, keeping peace while continuing to serve pints.

This night, when Finbar (Andrew Leman) comes in with Valerie (Leslie Baldwin), a strangers who is passing through, things suddenly take a new twist. The successful, married Finbar is showing his guest the high spots of the town, risking the gossip of the others who are not sure about this strange woman.

After the requisite small talk, the conversation drifts to eerie subjects, and with suitable blarney, Jack tells his story of ghosts, who knocks on doors and later disappears. Finbar tries to outdo him with his tale about fairies and foul deeds in the house where Valerie is staying.

That's when Valerie decides to tell her experience with the supernatural. Only hers is personal. She has recently lost a daughter in an accident, her husband has distanced himself, and the story she relates about her daughter contacting her from beyond is so compelling that it leaves everyone spellbound.

What makes this so potent is that it is believable--it's something that could happen, has happened, and could continue to happen when it involves someone as close as a child or a parent.

Burbank Leader, Reviewed by Jose Ruiz

Conor McPherson's "The Weir", enjoyed a good run at the Geffen in Westwood last year with tv star John Mahoney taking one of the central roles.  Theatre Banshee, a much smaller operation in Burbank, is now playing this set of Irish ghost stories told by lonely bar patrons. The stories themselves aren't all that frightening but the five actors are so invested in their roles that they become the characters.  That, on the other hand, is a little spooky.  The company describes itself as a "Mom and Pop" operation and their personal struggles with loss and grief are detailed in the surprisingly candid Director's Notes. The play was an instant favorite but this group had a particularly good set of reasons for selecting it quite apart from the popularity of Cheers-style situations.  The attention to detail in the set, the movement, and the accents are exemplary.  The critics love this one and once, for the right reasons.

Small Theatre News, Reviewed by Ravi Narasimhan

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