Award-winning actor Phil Antonino makes his directorial debut with The Weir, an award-winning play by Irish playwright Conor McPherson. The show is a set in a pub in rural Ireland where storytelling is the sport of choice.
The Weir is onstage at Theatre Now Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:00 pm through March 24. Dinner is available with the performance, with main course selections like Beef and Cabbage Lasagna, Salmon Cakes, and Vegetable Souffle. Listen to Phil talk about the show above, and see our extended conversation below.
Cast: Joseph Renton, Jr (Jack), Blake Howard (Brendan), Jamie Davenport (Jim), Jacob Keohane (Finbar Mack), Anna Gamel (Valerie)
Phil: Oh yeah. It's been really interesting being on the other side of the stage just because I've always been on the stage going on 15 years now. It was really interesting the stuff I didn't even think about that I had to do. It was a good challenge. I liked it, I enjoyed it. I'll do it again, hopefully.
Gina: Was this your first directing gig?
Phil: I took a class at UNCW where I directed little sketches and stuff under Ed Wagenseller. Other than that, no, I haven't really directed so much as been directed.
Gina: What did you find most challenging?
Phil: Time management. Also, because the show was not made to be dinner theater, I had to break it up and so then it was a matter of, do I break it up at this point right before a story or do I break it up after the story? I didn't want to destroy the linear chain of events. So that was tough, adapting it for dinner theater. And also, when I used to do shows at UNCW, you have a full tech support group, you have the free labor of students in the shop, you get the awesome costumes. For this one the tech groups didn't come in until the week before, so it was basically like I was just driving the whole train myself for awhile there. It made me appreciate having done shows with UNCW.
Gina: It makes you realize how difficult it is for community theater. Right?
Phil: Exactly, yes. It's having to piece together all these parts. Jacob Keohane, who is in the show, is an experienced carpenter and I got lucky there. Costume wise it was just me going to thrift stores. Our community group was able to get a stove, other bar related instruments. I actually had Browncoat stools leftover from when the Browncoat closed. So there's a little piece of Browncoat in the show, which is fun.
Gina: Can you tell me what the show's about?
Phil: The show is about a pub in the Irish countryside and the name of the pub is The Weir because it's near a river that they call The Weir. It's about four men who spend their days drinking and just basically shooting the shit. There’s a woman who is new to town and the men end up showing her around. So it starts off as them just trying to show off, as you know men are want to do. They start telling spooky stories and it ultimately leads up to her telling a story which has elements of all the previous stories that have been told. So it's not so much an Irish ghost story as it is a collection of Irish ghost stories. They have some supernatural elements, but as the stories progress they take on a more realistic quality. They stop being about fairies and start being about heartbreak and mistakes that keep you up at night. Actual horrors, so to speak. It's a nice little collection of stories.
Gina: Tell me about your history of doing theater in Wilmington.
Phil: I started in theater originally back in 2002 with Stageworks. So then I took a couple of years off to go to high school, graduated, went to college and couldn't quite figure out what I wanted to do. I was just a writing major at first and then I was a film major and it just wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. So I started taking theater classes again and I became a theater major and it just clicked like this is what I'm supposed to be doing. So I did about seven shows at UNCW. Also, I've done a bunch of Brown Coat shows and TheatreNOW also.
It's definitely what I'm supposed to be doing. I realize that. But also I wanted to push myself more. So I was like, “I've done a lot of shows, let's try directing one. Let's see if I can do that.” And I didn't burn the building down. So I think it worked out okay.
Gina: Do you want to direct again?
Gina: Do you want to direct anything in particular?
Phil: The thing with this show is it was picked for the season before I signed on. I just told Zach that I was interested in directing something and then he was like, "Well, do you want to direct the show?" I read it and was like, "Oh wow, this is a heavy show. Let's do it." Next time I would like to pick the show. Not that I wasn't connected to The Weir so much. I grew to love The Weir, but I'd like to direct a show that I'm like, “I gotta see this show onstage.” I'd love to do an adaptation of Book of Liz. I'd also like to do Private Wars, those are just two shows. Killer Joe, that would also be a dream show to do. But that's a tough one- that's not dinner theater.
Gina: I understand that The Weir is not for children.
Phil: No, there's a lot of language and the Irish brogues are so thick that sometimes you don't realize that you've heard the F word until you they say it five more times. Also, there's some thematic stuff that isn’t so much it's not appropriate for kids, it's just that I don't think it would hold their interest because it's a lot of guys sitting around telling stories which can be a little much for kids. And also they say the F word pretty much every five seconds. It's like Scorsese made an Irish play.
Gina: Is there any music in it?
Phil: Typically the Irish shows have an audience participation element where there is songs. There is none of that in this show, but I made sure to hand pick every song for the preshow, for the intermissions and for the conclusion because I wanted it to have some Irish music running through the background just to get the feel. It needed some music, and obviously, it had to be Irish music and I brought some good songs. I already got compliments, like "Oh, the music is great." I'm like, “Yes, the playlist is a success.”
Gina: Can you remember the name of any piece that you play for the background that you really like?
Phil: I used several different versions of an Irish song called She Moved Through the Fair. I have the Van Morrison version. I have another one by the St. Louis Boccherini Orchestra. It's just a song about losing love and I was like, “This is a great song and I can't pick just one version, so I'm going to put various versions throughout the entire show.” I put a lot of thought into the music. Probably more than I should have, but I enjoyed it. Honestly, when I first got the script and read through it, the first thing I started doing was making playlists to get me in the mood for it.
Gina: Music really does have a great effect on storytelling, I think.
Phil: Yes, definitely. Definitely.
Transcription Assistance by Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright