In a tiny, rural Irish pub, a small group of locals meets for companionship and to escape the biting wind: Brendan (Allen McKelvey), the youngish pub owner; Jack (W. Francis Walters), a single, middle-aged mechanic who's such a regular that he has the run of the place ( including the till); and Jimmy (Charles Shaw Robinson), a handyman who lives with his aging, sickly mum. The men are slightly on edge because Finbar (Julian López-Morillas), a successful realtor and hotel proprietor, is bringing an attractive outsider, Valerie (Emily Ackerman), who has just bought a house in town. It's clear Valerie's seeking refuge in this remote village, but we don't know for what. As the residents preen and fuss in front of her, deprecating themselves and each other, they recount local lore. They tell ghost stories. Their spooky, even creepy, tales touch something in Valerie, and she shares her own ghostly, devastating story. Ackerman mesmerizes as she delivers her burnished, anguished monologue. The four men struggle to respond correctly, to display the best in themselves, and haltingly, magically, they do. The Aurora Theater ensemble, as directed by Tom Ross, gives delicacy and detail to Conor MacPherson's script. Ross could make more use of Chris Houston's sound effects, which are too faint to give an immediate sense of the weather, leaving it to the actors to transform Chad William Owens' sweetly familiar set into a place of respite. McKelvey couldn't be any better as Brendan, the least showy, most delicate of the roles, and Walters exudes both wisdom and sorrow in a beautiful, accomplished, heartbreaking performance. MacPherson's gorgeous, keenly felt, and acutely observed prose gives the lie to fellow Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's unwarranted acclaim. The Aurora's intimate seating matches the congenial glow of the play, and you leave the theater full of the same comfort and warmth Valerie has received. MacPherson's ghosts of loss and love haunt you, just as his belief in the better angels of our natures consoles you.
Through Dec. 17. Admission is $30; call (510) 843-4822.
Aurora Theater, Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley