Marriage as an Entree

Dinner With Friends offers a tantalizing array of the flavors of human relationships.

Though it's now closed, Tir Ná nÓg Theatre Company's production of Conor McPherson's The Weir reveals a group worth watching. The Weir is a low-key play, full of talk, with very little action: Four men in a pub that represents a beacon in the lonely, rural part of Ireland where they live,exchange banter and swap ghost stories to impress a visiting woman from Dublin. The script calls for an intimate environment, and Tir Ná nÓg Theatre wisely chose to stage it at the Celtic Tavern in downtown Denver. Though the tavern is far bigger and shinier than the average Irish pub (and somebody really ought to tell the kitchen what a Welsh rarebit tastes like), the company transformed a section of it into what felt like the real thing, importing a few bits of scenery and ingeniously deploying what was already present.

On the night we attended, it took a while for things to gel. This is a play that demands deep authority in performance. Though most of the actors had mustered credible Irish accents, a couple of them spoke as if they weren't really thinking the words they were saying. And in general, McPherson's language took some getting used to. For a while we just sat there while a kind of crazy syllable salad interspersed with loud "ha ha ha"s whizzed by our ears. But slowly things changed. The playwright began pulling his thematic threads together, the actors found their feet, and the whole evening came into focus.

John Hutton, Caitlin O'Connell, Mark Rubald and Annette Helde in Dinner With Friends.
John Hutton, Caitlin O'Connell, Mark Rubald and Annette Helde in Dinner With Friends.


Through December 8, 303-893-4100 or
Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets

The ghost stories began as trivial and slightly amusing, but then the tone darkened. There was human depravity in the anecdote Jim told the group. And when Valerie, the woman from Dublin, finally spoke, her story tore at the heart. Finally, there was Jack's moment of self-revelation, and we began to realize that real horror doesn't lie in the supernatural, but in the bitterness of being alone and the emptiness of a life not lived: "We'll all be ghosts soon enough," he said.

Wade P. Wood brought a great deal of humor and energy to the annoying, loud-mouthed Finbar, though he sometimes created an almost overwhelming wash of sound in which all sense and feeling were lost. Darrin Ray, who played Jim, has talent and presence, but needed to tone down his performance. By contrast, Russell Orr underplayed Jack, and for the most part it worked, providing a contrast to the more excitable performances of the others. Jillann Tafel was a little too controlled as Valerie, though she came into her own when she told her story. Patrick M. Balai, who is also the company's artistic director, played bartender Brendan with matter-of-fact kindness and a good humor that anchored the evening.

My companion, who had seen the play in London, whispered to me that she preferred the Tir Ná nÓg production. I thought I could tell why. McPherson's play is about loneliness, but also about the obverse -- companion- ship -- and these actors brought a redemptive warmth to the work that would be unlikely in a larger, more ambitious production. Keep your eye out for Tir Ná nÓg Theatre's next manifestation.

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