Dan butler

The Rep delivers during lockdown

Amanda Quaid as Valerie in "The Weir."

Screen Time / By Peter McDermott

If Conor McPherson appears not to have mentioned the wind in his stage directions for “The Weir,” it certainly makes itself felt in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s magnificent 2020 virtual production of his classic play. It’s said to be Northerly at first, and then it’s coming from the West, a Westerly. But it’s warm, balmy, or what passes for that in North Leitrim or Sligo, the location we’re given for the remote bar where all the action takes place.

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The Germans will be here in a few weeks, the tourists, who stay in campsites. Jack tells bar owner Brendan, who does a good trade in the evenings when they’re around, that he could do more business with a campsite, and not leave it all to their former neighbor, Finbar, a successful real estate agent in nearby Carrick who’s due in soon with a new tenant, a Dublin woman in her 30s.

Jack, a garage owner, says that Brendan could clear the top field. “There wouldn’t be a lot of shelter up there,” Brendan replies. “There’d be a wind up there that’d cut you.” Jim, who is Jack’s sometime assistant at the garage, says he could put the herd on the top field and clear a field near the bar and house. But Brendan feels that’s too much work and besides he seems to suggest it would only underscore his or maybe their collective loneliness (the three are bachelors from their 30s through their 50s). “If you had the families out there. On their holiers. And all the kids and all.” And the time would come for them to leave for their Continental homes. “Whatever about how quiet it is now,” it would be “shocking quiet” then.

Sean Gormley as Finbar.

Finbar and the woman, Valerie, arrive. Soon the men, charmed and intrigued by the attractive visitor, start to tell some tales, ghost stories mainly.

Jack’s concerns a dark winter’s night before electrification with the “wind howling and whistling in off the sea. You hear it under the door and it’s like someone singing, singing in under the door at you. It was this type of night.” Jack said to Valerie. “Am I setting the scene for you?”

He was most certainly setting the scene for us in New York City and beyond last Saturday afternoon for the final showing in a five-day run of “The Weir” via YouTube. Balmy would’ve been nice, but it was baking. Those watching got quickly into the mood, though — if they hadn’t been transported back to the remote bar in North Connacht, they wanted to be.

John Keating as Jim.

McPherson’s work was first performed at the dawn of the internet age — at least what most of us consider its dawn — 1997. That was at the Royal Court in London with Dermot Crowley, Jim Norton and Brendan Coyle among its cast. The production was brought to New York in 1999. In a poll conducted by the Royal National Theatre, London, it was voted one of the best 100 plays of the 20th century (in joint 40th with Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” Arthur Miller’s “The View from the Bridge” and Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame”) and Guardian critic Michael Billington included it in his 2015 book “'The 101 Greatest Plays: From Antiquity to the Present.” And so, inevitably like all great works it’s adaptable to changed circumstances. And what a terrific cultural happening the Irish Rep has made of it in 2020 under the sure direction of Ciarán O’Reilly. Hopefully, this virtual production will be made available again very soon.

Tim Ruddy as Brendan.

Here are some of the opening credits: “Dan Butler as Jack, filmed in Vermont, Tim Ruddy as Brendan, filmed in New Jersey, John Keating as Jim, filmed in North Carolina, Sean Gormley as Finbar, filmed in Brooklyn, Amanda Quaid as Valerie, filmed in Connecticut.”

The cast members are veterans of previous Rep revivals of the play and each brings something really special to the virtual production.

At the beginning, there were 965 or so viewing on YouTube, and that went over 1,000 briefly, and held steady at close to that for the full 110 minutes. All the while, one could get feedback in comments along the side. “Beautifully done. I've seen this play many times, but this format gives us a chance to really focus on character and dialogue,” said one. Another enthused: “Enjoying this so much~ from Pittsburgh PA! Cheers!”

Dan Butler as Jack.

McPherson’s work was, he assumes, inspired by time spent with and listening to tales from his grandfather who lived alone in remote County Leitrim. In “The Weir,” the opening ghost story is set against the backdrop of ancient folklore and told second hand from the perspective of a now departed elderly customer, Maura Nealon, who recalled an incident from her childhood in 1910 or ’11; the next begins as teenage misadventure with a ouija board, and ultimately had a profound effect on the person remembering it; a daytime ghost story takes place in a graveyard, and might have been a case of too much poitín consumed; there’s a ghost story as recent personal tragedy (which is possibly the one that will have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck); and there’s also a love story, with a ghost that is both a real presence and a living person long departed to the city.

Meantime, a few grappled with technical issues and were advised by the Rep and fellow viewers how to handle them. Others offered modified critiques along the way: “Loving it - don’t find the green screen too distracting at all but am a little put off by Jack's uneven accent - everyone else is 100% on accent wise.”

Well, Ruddy is from Connacht, and Keating, though from Leinster, adapts impressively to local cadences, as does Gormley, from the same province, in his way. Quaid, who is from Los Angeles originally, does a fine job as a middle-class Dubliner; country accents, of course, are far trickier for the foreigner, but Butler is nonetheless the charismatic anchor for the whole piece. The commenters on Saturday loved that there were reaction shots at all, so they must surely have appreciated the expression on Jack’s face during Valerie’s monolog, complementing her storytelling perfectly.

Overall, a big hit! “Great performance--would love to see more productions--perfect way to spend an afternoon during this time of sheltering-in.” “How did you manage to pull that off? Best use of Zoom I've seen -- as well as a great show.” “Bravo! Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful -- best theatre I've seen on Zoom.” "I'd love to know what program was used- this most definitely does not feel/look like Zoom.” “Spectacular storytelling, beautiful writing and performance. Thank you thank you thank you!” “Thank you for gorgeous performances and for bringing live theater to Albuquerque and theater starved fans!”

Go to IrishRep.org for more about current productions.