Stones In His Pockets by Marie Jones. Directed by Phil Rice.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Trey Compton and Matthew Daly; photo provided
"A 'Who’s Who' of who’s bonked who!"
Hollywood intrudes on many of us in strange and awful ways. In the play "Stones In His Pockets" it intrudes on a small town in Ireland to make a realistic drama about Irish landowners and the people affected by their intolerance, greed and prevarication. Using locals for "color" in the film, the film-makers affect the townspeople in much the same way the film’s characters affect the lives of the fictional folk around them. Life mimics art. Art realizes life.
"Don’t we all dream?" one of the denizens demands of his friend. This is the question that truly invests this gigantic play for two actors with the unique combination of qualities that lets us laugh a little, cry a little and sigh a little for the loss of those individual qualities which separate the Irish folk from the rest of us. "Don’t we all dream?" when asked demands an answer and no answer is sufficient, for naturally we all do as we must, but our dreams - once at the surface for others to see and ridicule - are almost never met with a necessary touch of reality.
Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn meet on the movie set in County Kerry. They are ‘extras’ making 40 pounds a day. As they get to know one another better their deeper secrets emerge in conversation and action. As so often happens in these two-handers the actors eventually play about two dozen different characters, marked in this production by the changing of hats which bring on altered voices and different stances. In the case of the production closing the season at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York, there couldn’t be two better actors to face the task of creating a village and its interlopers than Matthew Daly and Trey Compton.
Compton plays Jake, a native of the town seeking to satisfy a boyhood dream of being in a Hollywood film and Daly is Charlie, a newcomer seeking a more permanent way into the professional world of movies. Their friendship is an uneasy one, particularly when an old friend of Jake’s, Sean Harkin, whose reticence at involvement and his love of the land destroys his psyche, commits suicide. That off-stage death triggers the emotional emergence of a true character in Jake. His return from America becomes a non-incident; his devotion to a friend becomes the real burden of his life and Compton plays this aspect of Jake with a brilliant internal light.
Compton does the romance in this show with a simple sincerity that keeps laughter to a minimum and he underplays tragedy with an almost Shakespearean grace. He plays male and female roles in this play and there is less parody on his part than there is on Daly’s. Compton is a subtle actor and he keeps the distinguishing aspects of his characters relatively clear from the outset. It’s a very nice, professional performance by a talented young actor.
Daly is a master at character voices and physical transformations. His performance is almost classic radio acting, each of his characters presented with a unique and special sound. You can almost close your eyes and glory in his personality shifts. But you must watch Matthew Daly. His very good looks are often altered by the character he undertakes and his face and body shift into other gears, other places. As the movie star Carolyn Giovanni, he is a devastating parody of femininity, a woman who uses her sensual wiles and the color pink to entice, entrance and engage the men around her. As the film director his is decidedly phony European, pompous and crass. As the assistant director, Clem, Daly creates an Irishman who wishes he wasn’t one, a professional who is too easily frustrated to sustain a mainstream career. If it weren’t that Compton is good, the play would easily belong to Daly. With two actors whose styles are so different splitting the memorable moments and characterizations, the show is a dead heat in terms of the race to possession. A well-constructed play is given marvelous substance by two fine actors.
The play, well directed by the clever Phil Rice, ultimately solidifies the friendship of Charlie and Jake in their attempt to write their own collaborative screenplay about the making of the film they are working in. In 1996, when the play was written, this must have seemed like a great idea. In 2011 it feels old-hat, a device that should be rewritten to take these men somewhere else, somewhere where they can actually dream something new and different. Rice does everything he can do to keep the show a light and amusing evening, but the darkness that pervades the play makes it a much more successful drama than a comedy. Laugh-lines aside, this is a strong and determined piece of theater.
The physical production is one of the Phelps’s best this season with an easy moveable set by Abe Phelps and lighting that highlights the poignant moments by Allen Phelps. Alyssa Coutourier’s simple and easily altered costumes work well for the actors, her hats making the statements they need to make.
All in all, "Stones In His Pockets" is the Virginia Woolf of comedies. It says what needs to be said and then moves on, heading for the stream with the weightiness that it cannot shake off and the lilt that it cannot resist.
Stones In His Pockets plays at the Theater Barn on Route 20 west of New Lebanon, New York on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through September 25. Tickets are $24.00 for the evening performances and $22.00 for the Sunday matinee. For information and reservations call (518) 794-8989. www.theaterbarn.com