There are few experiences, be they funny or sad, quite like listening to Irish storytellers telling their tales in an Irish pub, something playwright Conor McPherson knew well when crafting his 1997 play “The Weir.”
But in their ongoing production of the play, the Queens-based City Gate Productions and director Thom Harmon go a step further — performing the show in an actual Irish tavern.
The play opened Oct. 15 at Yer Man’s Irish Pub on 88th Street in Glendale. The remaining shows this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday have sold out since this interview took place.
The entire play takes place in a small pub in rural Ireland run by Brendan. Two of his regulars are Jack, a garage owner, and Jim, an affable laborer. Semi-regular Finbar Mack left the town for the city years ago to seek and build his fortune.
The Weir of the title is a hydroelectric dam, depicted in photos behind the bar, that was built in the 1950s when Jack and Finbar were boys, bringing jobs and electricity, changing the rural village in some ways, but not all.
Finbar has been seen around town recently with Valerie, a young woman in her 30s “down from Dublin.” He introduces her to the town — and to the pub. Like any good Irish bar, a visitor gets regaled with stories, with one leading to another, some going down unintended paths.
Even Valerie is drawn to talk about things one might not in a room full of strangers.
“Conor McPherson was looking to write five monologues without making them seem like monologues,” Harmon said prior to a recent dress rehearsal. “He uses a lot of mysticism and spiritualism.”
“Some might say Valerie is like the Weir,” said Erin Layton, who plays the stranger, one whose presence might perhaps change the bar in some ways, but not all.
James Patrick Curran plays Brendan, the pub owner. Jim Haines is Jack, while Mark Dunn plays a character named Jim Curran. Rich Feldman portrays Finbar Mack.
Harmon said like most theater troupes in Queens, they had done some virtual work in the last 18 months or so. He came across “The Weir,” while looking for a play that could be done live within some of the challenges still remaining from the pandemic.
And he had the idea that he wanted to do it in an actual Irish pub.
“I spoke to Jimmy O’Reilly,” Harmon said, referring to Yer Man’s owner. “He said ’Great!’”
And thus a backroom of a pub that already had booths, tables and chairs needed just some finishing touches to convert it into the intimate set of Brendan’s never-named tavern. Harmon said they actually did have to build a bar, and borrow some appropriate lighting equipment.
As with any storage space, there was some clutter. But that, Layton said, shows that McPherson may not be the only one dabbling in a bit of mysticism and unexplained coincidences.
“If you look at the script and read the stage directions, it says the bar has some clutter,” she said.