Stones in His Pockets
Written by Marie Jones, Directed by Courtney O'Connor; Scenic Design, Matthew Whiton; Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito; Lighting Design, Margo Cadell; Sound Design, Brendan F. Doyle; Dialect Coach, Nina Zendejas; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell; Assistant Director, Anna Trachtman; Assistant Stage Manager, Sarah Morrison
CAST: Daniel Berger-Jones, Phil Tayler
Performances through March 16 at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com
Stones in His Pockets, Marie Jones' 2001 Olivier Award-winner for Best New Comedy, would be a fun play to experience at any time of the year, but it has extra resonance during the days surrounding the annual Academy Awards ceremony. Movie buffs have been caught up in the prognosticating and anticipating the winners and losers, to say nothing of the attention paid to the fashion parade on the red carpet. In the play, a rural Irish village in County Kerry is turned upside down by the arrival of an American film crew as the locals vie for roles as extras and the opportunity to earn some good money or escape their bleak daily lives.
Charlie Conlon (Daniel Berger-Jones) and Jake Quinn (Phil Tayler) each harbor their own dreams when they sign on to be among the minions in "The Quiet Valley," hoping at least to rub elbows with Caroline Giovanni, the beautiful star of the film. Conlon also totes around a movie script that he wrote, waiting for the right moment to get somebody in the company to look at it and give him his big break after his video rental business folded. Following a brief stay in New York where he failed to make his American dream come true, Quinn has only recently returned to the village to live in his mother's home. He'd like nothing better than to become a film star.
In addition to Charlie and Jake, most of the adults in the village are involved with the production, either as extras or as beneficiaries of the boon to the local economy. Jones makes it crystal clear that the presence of the film company is an elixir that benefits some and poisons others. There is Mickey, a gnarled fellow in his seventies who reminds everybody that he's the last surviving extra on "The Quiet Man" starring John Wayne. He knows they can't fire you once the film is in the can and is the first to have his hand out for the forty quid man. Jake's young cousin Sean hangs around the set trying to get a job, but is spurned because he's volatile and always strung out on drugs.
The film makers are single minded, focusing on the weather and deadlines, and altogether oblivious, at best (uncaring, at worst) about their impact on the community. Simon, the assistant director, and his underling Aisling have responsibility for and direct contact with the extras, basically running interference for the British director Clem, thereby allowing him to remain aloof and removed from the locals. Jones does not portray them sympathetically; rather, they are the personification of the "ugly American," taking what they need from the townspeople, chewing them up, and spitting them out. Eventually, the stars in Jake's eyes are extinguished as he sees the truth, but the reality check gives him a clearer outlook and the spark of an idea to change his life on his own terms.
Courtney O'Connor directs Berger-Jones and Tayler in their energetic performances, taking on as they do more than a dozen eclectic characters between them. The way the play is structured, they change from one persona to another in a flash by a shift in posture, altered dialect, adding a mannerism, or doffing a cap, with an occasional assist from a lighting effect. Each of the actors has to play one female and their gender differentiation is spot on. Dialect Coach Nina Zendejas has schooled them well to speak in a variety of tongues, ranging from County Kerry to Ballycastle, Cockney to Scottish, to good old U.S. of A. English. (Not that I could recognize one from another, but Berger-Jones and Tayler succeed in giving everyone a unique sound.)
I am not suggesting that it is easy to assume the physical and vocal trappings of multiple characters, but finding the essence of each is the greater difficulty. However, these two fine actors more than meet the challenge of bringing out the personalities and conveying the varying emotions that they experience. A few examples: Charlie's and Jake's excitement is infectious when Caroline comes into their pub; Sean's fury is red hot and a little scary; Jake is consumed by guilt and sorrow, surrendering his whole body to the feelings.