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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
"Do you have...em, a glass of white wine?"
on 6 September 2004
When Valerie rents a remote cottage in a small town near Sligo, she hopes to find respite from the horrors that have enveloped her in Dublin, a place where she can rest and get a grip on her life. Introduced to the Guinness-drinking regulars at the local bar by Finbar, who has rented her the cottage, she and they soon explore some of the big mysteries of life. Irish playwright Conor McPherson uses Valerie's arrival at the bar as the pivot around which all the action turns in this 1997 play.
The regulars have arrived at the bar before Valerie, and the audience observes the relationships among Brendan, the bar owner, who obviously respects and trusts his customers (enough to allow them behind the bar to put their money into the till on their own), and Jack and Jim, who obviously like and trust Brendan in return. Their conversation is filled with the everyday smalltalk of local men of long acquaintance-whether the Guinness tap is working, what they are going to do the next day at work, whether Finbar is attracted to the new resident, and what she looks like. When Valerie arrives, they vie to outdo each other in her eyes, telling a series of eerie stories, each involving ghosts and death in the locality and each story more dramatic than the previous one.
When Valerie tells her own story, which is real, the ghost stories of the past pale in comparison. The Irish love of story-telling, the concern with death and the afterlife, reports of visions and hauntings, and the desire to connect with others in an effort to avoid the loneliness of grief all magnify the impact of Valerie's story on her audience. Told in plain, common speech (full of "ems" and "ers"), the play has a subtlety and elegance of concept that goes beyond the surface, as reality is shown to be even more dramatic than the fantastic stories the men have presented. As Brendan, Finbar, Jack, and Jim make connections with Valerie, the need for humans to explain tragedy and to comfort each other in the face of death and grief becomes a major theme. Simple in presentation, this is a thoughtful story which plumbs the realities of Irish country life while it explores the big questions of humankind. Mary Whipple