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The Weir, and Other Stories

Burroughs portrait
Do you ever have thematic days?  Like, there's a piece on the radio in the morning about shrimp and then someone posts a shrimp recipe on Facebook and the lady in front of you at the fish shop (yes, we have a dedicated fish shop, Joon's, on the corner of 98th and Amsterdam) is buying shrimp?  In Chateau Riverside, we call this phenomenon a "plate o' shrimp" experience, for reasons lost in the mists of time, and Wednesday was kind of like that, only the theme was stories about stories.

I grant you that it's arguable that most of my days are organized around stories--reading them, writing them, trading them with my friends.  But Wednesday seemed particularly thematically laden.  After an afternoon pounding away at the same first scene I've been trying to get right for a while now (it's beginning to show signs of shape, finally.  Note to self:  quit trying to jam novels into 12,000 word stories. Kthanx), I took myself out to dinner, where I finished the book I've been reading on my phone, A.S. Byatt's Ragnarok.  Which is, among other things, a story about the importance of myth and how it can function in someone's life.

The myth Byatt is dealing with is the Twilight of the Northern Gods, and she does it beautifully, with lists and long descriptions and little philosophical bits stitching together the basic tragic tale of divine greed, violence, cruelty, and self-destruction.  Alongside this, she tells the story of a thin child--her young self, more or less, evacuated to the English countryside during the Blitz with her distant, scholarly mother while her father fought in France, and how she took comfort from those vivid, bloody stories, which seemed so much more realistic, on an emotional level, than the local Vicar's bible stories.  The blood, greed, and sometimes incomprehensible violence of the Norse gods did not give her an escape from the fear of war and possibly losing her father. They gave her a way to face her fears and accept them, as the Norse gods did, who lived all their divine lives knowing that they would die at last in a great battle they would have brought on themselves.

Which brings me to Conor McPherson's The Weir, which we saw at the Irish Repertory Theater down on 22nd Street.  It, too, is about stories and how even the grimmest and most difficult ones can bring their own kind of comfort, drawing people together, making connections between them, creating and solidifying community.  During the course of a rainy evening in an Irish pub, four men and a woman (a "blow-in," just moved from Dublin) trade tales, and by so doing, connect and support each other in different times of need.  What begins as an awkward flirtation with the pretty stranger, with the local garage owner--a hard-drinking blow-hard by the name of Jack-- telling a colorful story about a house built on a fairy road, an old woman and a child, and some inexplicable knocks on the door, proceeds through a two ghost stories to Valerie's own chilling, and very personal, story of loss and regret, followed by Jack's second story, as haunting as, but very different both in tone and content, than the first, told after the other men have left to Valerie and the barkeep, Brenden, who is the only one who tells no story, because he's the publican, and publicans don't tell stories, they listen to them.

It's a wonderful play.  Nothing of note happens--arguably, nothing happens at all.  People drift into their local, down a few small ones and pints, tell stories, leave again.  Jack and Finbar, a local tycoon, are bosom enemies, clearly been sniping at each other since they were in short pants, not always good-naturedly.  Jim is a good boy, not the sharpest pencil in the box, but reliable, takes care of his aged, ailing mother, doesn't talk much, shy as bedamned, but comes out with a truly chilling story that might or might not have happened (he had the flu at the time, and had been drinking and digging a grave in the rain), but is utterly believable as he's telling it.  Brenden complains about the German tourists who keep him in business and treat him like furniture and his sisters and the weather, and is clearly as annoyed by his regulars as he is fond of them.  Valerie looks as if she might stir things up a bit, and does, but not in the way anybody--including the audience--expects.  And yet, after maybe the first 5 minutes, which were almost necessarily a little short on narrative tension, being all about taking chairs off tables, turning on lights, and discovering that the Guinness pump was buggered, I was riveted.

Most of it was the writing, certainly.  Conor McPherson does loneliness and fear and the ways in which inarticulate people manage (or not) to connect really, really well.  It was one of the things I loved in The Seafarer, which I saw when?  2-3 years ago?  He also manages to write extremely realistic plays that acknowledge the power of the supernatural.  You can choose to believe or not believe in his fairies, ghosts, and devils--they don't have to be factual to be metaphors, and they'll still be metaphors if they're factual. He has a dandy way with the poetry of common speech, how people naturally go in and out of formality, dialect, or profanity, depending on their audience and their relationship with them. And he was very well served by the actors in this production, who really inhabited their parts.  I particularly liked John Keating (who I've seen in a bunch of other plays, always in character parts--he's kind of funny-looking, tall and rangy and shock-haired, with big, big, wondering eyes in a sharp little face)  as Jim and Billy Carter as Brenden, because they just felt so very real, even when they were listening, which is mostly what they did.  I liked Tessa Klein as Valerie, too--anxious, on her best behavior, a white wine drinker in a beer world, but in an apologetic, I'm-so-sorry-I-don't-like-beer-I'm-so-stupid way, a good listener, a brave and driven story-teller.  The horror and art of the story Valerie tells are measures of her need and her reluctance to tell it, and she (Ms Klein) really got that.

So, a good day all around.

And yesterday was Yom Kippur, which we observed at Romemu, a Jewish Renewal congregation that can best be described by Buddhism meets Hassidisim meets Universal Love, Man.  There is ecstatic dancing, there is lots of music, there is scriptural exegesis, there is bad poetry.  There is a lot of heart.  There were also a lot of very moving stories of regrets, hopes of renewal, wishes for compassion, strength, and community.  Listening, I was full of gratitude for my health, for my relationship, for my life that contains I could wish it to have.  So now I have to go write.  Because stories are what I do.  And stories are important.

Yeah.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
LaMinda
Sep. 16th, 2013 12:39 am (UTC)
Stories
Funny, when I was growing up, I always thought of Yom Kippur as an oddball holiday in the Jewish calendar because there was no story attached to it. Every other holiday had some epic story, usually involving a dramatic escape for the Jews from impending annihilation. But for Yom Kippur, arguably the most important holiday of all—nothing. It occurs to me now that maybe that's because it's the holiday when we're supposed to focus on our own personal stories—and perhaps try to rewrite them during the coming year.

Oh, and the Plate o' Shrimp thing? It's a scene in "Repo Man": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRJ5cCP0ZPE
deliasherman
Sep. 16th, 2013 01:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Stories
Yes, that's it exactly!

And yes, I remembered Plate o'Shrimp, but not the origin--possibly because I've never actually seen "Repo Man." Thanks for the link.
sartorias
Sep. 16th, 2013 02:49 am (UTC)
That Yom Kippur celebration sounds perfect.

(And speaking of the end, I could do with some pages . . .)
deliasherman
Sep. 16th, 2013 01:47 pm (UTC)
Soon, I promise. When you come.
sartorias
Sep. 16th, 2013 01:51 pm (UTC)
Yay!
sararyan
Sep. 16th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC)
Another play for you
I always love your play reviews.

So, I keep hearing more and more about the genius of Mr. Burns. Since I am unlikely to make it to NYC during its run, I think the next best thing is for you to see it and write about it.

deliasherman
Sep. 16th, 2013 01:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Another play for you
Sounds wonderful. Not sure we've got time to see it before the Grand Tour, but if it's still playing in December, we'll be there!
kekhmet
Sep. 16th, 2013 11:06 am (UTC)
we call this phenomenon a "plate o' shrimp" experience, for reasons lost in the mists of time
Repo Man

or more specifically, Miller in Repo Man talks about this sort of thing, using "plate o' shrimp" as the example.



Edited at 2013-09-16 11:06 am (UTC)
csecooney
Sep. 16th, 2013 11:20 am (UTC)
Made me want to see it again. Again, again, again.

Neil Gaiman said, somewhere in Fragile Things, "We owe it to each other to tell stories. It's the closest thing I have to a religion."

And I agree.
deliasherman
Sep. 16th, 2013 01:52 pm (UTC)
Yes. Stories. They are the basis of all religions, aren't they?
asakiyume
Sep. 16th, 2013 11:59 am (UTC)
Now you've left me dying to hear the stories they all told, and there's no way I'll ever see the play. If you find yourself with a free minute, can you share them? Not here, because people reading here won't want them spoiled, but at forrestfm at gmail dot com? If you don't get a chance, that's fine. I love how you've told this; you really convey the intimacy and the way the stories are a thread of magic/supernatural woven into their lives.

And this:

You can choose to believe or not believe in his fairies, ghosts, and devils--they don't have to be factual to be metaphors, and they'll still be metaphors if they're factual. He has a dandy way with the poetry of common speech, how people naturally go in and out of formality, dialect, or profanity, depending on their audience and their relationship with them.

The first part, about metaphors, oh yes! And the second part: what a treat.
deliasherman
Sep. 16th, 2013 01:54 pm (UTC)
The fascination and the power of the stories is as much in the way they're told as in what happens, and I can't begin to reproduce that. Maybe you can find the published play in a library or something--if your own library doesn't have it, there's always interlibrary loan. Because it's definitely a play worth reading.
asakiyume
Sep. 16th, 2013 01:57 pm (UTC)
The fascination and the power of the stories is as much in the way they're told as in what happens

I can well believe it, from what you've said!

Maybe you can find the published play in a library or something

--Good idea; I will look for it.

negothick
Sep. 16th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC)
Your Romemu experience sounds quite the opposite from the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy, which demands that we all confess to the same sins in the plural, "Sins that WE have sinned," over and over and over. In alphabetical order, no less.
As our rabbi several times quoted Abraham Joshua Heschel,[misquoted slightly, as it turns out, if wikipedia is correct] "the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible."
That's quite different from "my personal story, my unhappiness, my wants, my sins." All are responsible.
deliasherman
Sep. 16th, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, we did those, too. Our rabbi somehow manages to emphasize both individual and communal responsibility in his comments on the liturgy. As I said (or didn't say, but it's still true), this is Jewish Renewal, which is kind of Hippie Schul. Lots of Hebrew, lots of singing, lots of feels.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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