Skip to content

The haunted past keeps lapping into the present

In ‘The Weir,’ opening Friday, Jan. 20, at the Studio Stage Door, wisdom is found in the dark places
Cranbrook Community Theatre’s latest production “The Weir” opens tonight at the Studio Stage Door in Cranbrook. The play written by Conor McPherson is set in a rural Irish pub

Trish Barnes

Cranbrook Community Theatre's latest production, "The Weir," by renowned contemporary Irish playwright Conor McPherson, ponders themes of darkness and light, superstition and modernity and the moments that change one's life.

Directed by veteran CCT helmsman Terry Miller, "The Weir" is set in a village pub on the rural west coast of Ireland.

The pub — old, snug and bright — is overseen by Brendan (played by Landon Elliott). He's joined this evening by regular customers Jack, (Jim Cameron), Jim (Barry Coulter) and Finbar (Dave Prinn). Brendan is as attached to his pub as he is to his friends. It suits him fine to share a 'small one' (whiskey) with the fellows, and to drive them home after a night.

These are long-term residents, not 'blow ins' from away. Their family histories go back generations here, to before the weir (hydroelectric dam) was built to shine light into the corners, maybe to before the priests first came to exorcise the spirits, and maybe even before the Viking raids gave everyone the jitters.

With history comes memory. Knowing each other so well frees them to be honest. They deride each other for holding illusions, for being over-proud. But they don't shame a man for his fear. Fear, in environs with long-repeated tales of fairies and ghosts, is much respected.

Who appeared to the gravedigger — and spoke? What knocked on the window? Who was that on the stairs?

When the night wind is whistling against you it's best to have a place where you can stay with 'company in the bright light.' So says Jack, the bachelor mechanic, and central character. Jack is a man of the 'old independence' and a conveyor of the local lore. With a voice like music and a wit that cannot be beat (Finbar tries it, and fails), he knows the weak spots of his friends as much as he defends their good qualities. He knows his own weak spots, too. His tale of finding humility is simple, and heartbreaking, and involves a sandwich.

Jim, on the other hand, is socially awkward, quiet but with a keen ear. He helps Jack in the garage and—when Jack feels like relying more on the odds than on his philosophy of luck — at the horse races. Finbar wears the suit of a modern city man, but soon enough the gloss comes off and it's clear why his escape from the village took him just a few miles down the road.

Into this mix comes Valerie (Jennifer Henkes Inglis), a gracious young woman from Dublin, lovely and a bit mysterious. She has just taken up residence in one of the old houses most known for knocks in the night. Finbar—the only married fellow in the crew—has been showing her around the countryside. When they land in the pub no one will let her buy a drink, but ply her with spirits they do.

These are men whose relationships are formalized through the rituals of alcohol—he who buys is he who wins—and the haunted past keeps lapping over the barrier of the weir, and their glasses, into the present.

Valerie listens as they run through their repertoires of queer goings on. Then she, too, tells a story, with visible relief to find listening ears. Hers is a nightmare of the worst kind, with elements both real and surreal. The people of this place, it turns out, accept both real and surreal in equal measure. Perhaps the old ways here can help her heal.

The weir brought light to the old hearths, but electricity didn't replace the collective respect for what meaning the darkness can hold. Not only fairies, ghosts and angels—darkness brings reflection, wisdom and humility to these who choose to stay where they're from. Because, as Jack says, we'll all be ghosts soon enough.

The Weir by Conor McPherson, directed by Terry Miller, produced by Sally Masters opens tonight, January 20 at the Studio Stage Door and shows Saturday, Jan. 21. It then runs from January 25 to 28 (Wednesday to Saturday) and again February 1 to 4 (Wednesday to Saturday.) All showtimes 7:30. Tickets available at Lotus Books.