The show: “Stones in His Pocket” at
What is it?: When a Hollywood film company descends on a rural Irish village and takes over the town, locals sign on as extras and get swept up in the movie-making dream machine. The twist here is that all the characters in the story are performed by two actors — here well-played by Euan MortonÖ and Fred ArsenaultÖ as Charlie and Jake. The two natives who see their proximity to celebrity as a lift — and possible escape — from their dead-end lives.
Sounds like fun: It is, to a point. But the idea of actors dazzling audiences by performing multiple, whimsical, gender-bending roles ("The Mystery of Irma Vep," "Greater Tuna") is hardly the freshest idea. Don't get me wrong. The actors here are terrific and Evan YionoulisÖ' staging is nimble. But the script is thin and trite. If you take away the acting duo's virtuosity and you were to cast additional actors for all the roles, the stark flaws of the play would even be more evident. The story is sentimental, the dialogue bland, the characters sketchy and the themes simplistic.
But the mix of phony Hollywood types and the salt-of-the-earth Irish seem like sure-fire culture clash comedy: There are laughs — the filmed series of "outtakes" in the faux film is especially good silly fun as is their "Riverdance" bit — but they mostly come from well-worn tropes: Hollywood send-ups, Irish blarney, drag.
The story takes a dark turn halfway through its long 100 minutes (including intermission). The sudden death of one of the locals is clumsily and cheaply done. Playwright Marie Jones awkwardly reaches for higher significance but there's little audience investment in the departed. Worse, cheap Hollywood bashing — the movies filled a young man's head with dashed dreams and drove him to suicide — is reductive to a fault (and an insult to the Irish).
But wasn't this a hit in other places?: Yes. The play was well-received in Belfast, Edinburgh Theatre festival, London and, in 2001, on Broadway where it had a six-month run. It's seen many productions at regional theaters, too. Fine comic acting covers a lot of a playwriting sins.
Morton makes us immediately like and care for the resilient, optimistic Charlie, who has a film script in his back pocket that he hopes will land in welcoming Hollywood hands. He is also amusing in a “Where’s Charley?” way as the film’s petulant star Caroline Giovanni, though it’s hard to imagine her as a leading lady of a lush period melodrama, “The Quiet Valley,” the kind that Hollywood hasn’t made in years. Arsenault brings many colors to the prideful Jake, the man who went to America to find his dream, only to return home, and who now as movie star dreams of his own. He is also especially fine as crusty old Mickey, the last surviving extra on the
The overall production values are solid. Edward T. MorrisÖ' set fills the large Rep stage with a sense of cinematic sweep. Solomon WeisbardÖ's lighting design, Nikki DelhommeÖ's costumes and Matt OttoÖ's soundscape are also first-rate.
Who will like it?: Some Eire-philes, but not all.
Who won't?: Those who expect more playwriting craft.
For the kids?: Teens might enjoy watching the two actors take on multiple roles and their amazing pivots from character to character.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: It takes two exceptional actors to make a village but it takes more than that to make a play.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: One expects adventuresome programming on the Yale Rep stage. "Stones In His Pockets" is one of the slightest offerings in years.