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The Weir at TriState
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The Importance of Being Earnest at Holmdel
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September 23, 2005

The Weir
Storytellers in 'The Weir' need better material to match their talent

It's often said that great orators can entertain you just by reading the phone book. It's the same with great storytellers. They don't need great stories to show their audience a good time.

There's a bunch of good storytellers currently at the Crescent Theater in Sussex, where Tri-State Actors Theater is staging Conor McPherson's "The Weir." Too bad they don't have better material to work with.

McPherson, an Irish playwright, won several awards in 1997 for this drama about a group of interesting characters swapping ghost stories in a rural Irish pub. Unfortunately, as these kinds of stories go, they are as thin as widow's lace. There's a hint of creepiness here and there, but they lack the sort of imagination, tension and clever twists that make you want to repeat them at the next campfire.

Even the author seems to acknowledge this. One storyteller finishes by saying, "That's it. That's the story."That's a bad sign if there ever was one.

At least his setup is sound enough -- a small band of boozy locals, all men, are joined by a slightly mysterious woman who just bought a house in their isolated neighborhood.

Valerie (Brooke Lucas) is a bit reserved but pleasant and willing to fit in with the crowd. She's just looking for a little peace and quiet.

"You're in the right place," says Jack (John Little), a garage owner who appears to be the oldest of the clan. "You're going to have a peace-and-quiet overload around here."

The pub owner, Brendan (Chris Harcum), is suspicious about the motives of local businessman and real estate broker Finbar (Bob Senkewicz), who sold Valerie the home and is now shepherding her around town. Finbar is married and Brendan doesn't go for any shenanigans in his establishment other than drinking, smoking and cussing, which are all here in abundance.

But "The Weir" steers clear of romantic scandal and turns down a darker path when it is revealed that Valerie has bought the local haunted house. As the whiskey and stout start to loosen tongues, the stories begin to flow freely. Jack talks about the house being built on a "fairy road." Finbar goes next and is razzed by his mates for misidentifying a Ouija board as a "Luigi board."

Jim (Dan Matisa) tells a grimmer tale, but Valerie, after sitting in the background for most of the 90-minute, one-act affair, trumps them all with a stirring and emotional work of non-fiction that explains her presence in town.

Valerie's story is gripping, but more thanks to Lucas'delivery than McPherson's wordsmithing. The same goes in spades for the stories that precede it.

Little, seen last year on this stage as Dr. Seward in "The Passion of Dracula," is a strong presence, although, like most of the cast, his brogue needs some polishing. Harcum has a nice blend of intensity and laid-back charm, while Matisa is also convincing as the socially awkward yet dignified Jim.

Senkewicz, who frequents the Tri-State stage, looks less like an Irishman than anyone director Paul Meacham could have found, but he still makes a difficult character work. And Lucas, one of two non-Equity actors in the cast (Senkewicz is the other), comes out of nowhere to knock you out with her climactic monologue.

I wouldn't want to read "The Weir," but no one's asking me to. Then again, I don't really enjoy reading Shakespeare, but seeing it onstage is another matter entirely. So skip the script, take a seat and enjoy.

Bob Senkewicz / Howell, New Jersey /