“Stones in His Pocket” at Yale Repertory Theatre

       --Irene Backalenick

“Stones in His Pocket” slowly emerges as an intriguing, and at times, devastating black Irish comedy. It all takes place in a County Kerry village in Ireland, where an American film company struggles to produce a movie. “A fillim,” as one of the local extras notes.

The theme of “Stones,” as it turns out, is that the American dream -- as embodied by America’s film industry -- is a pipe dream, as some would say. And those who buy the dream are doomed to disappointment -- or more. One such seeker of dreams will drown himself, walking into water with “stones in his pocket.” As one local, an extra, summarizes: “...You come here and use us, use the place, and then clear off and think nothing about what you leave behind...”


Playwright Marie Jones takes a powerful swipe at the movie industry. All the usual suspects are there: the terribly serious director, his self-important assistants, his glamorous American star -- and the locals who are thrilled to be extras.


Two gifted actors -- Fred Arsenault and Euan Morton -- assume numerous roles to tell the story, with a stream of characters on parade. One cannot but marvel at Arsenault and Morton as they slip effortlessly (or seemingly so) from one role to another, switching genders and status with the skill and power of Olympic competitors.


Edward T. Morris’s set design is deceptively simple and bleak (except for huge cameras mounted stage right and left), but it serves well to focus attention on the actors themselves. And Nikki Delhomme’s costumes also take a back seat, making it clear that clothes are not the name of this game. The pair slips from one pair of shabby trousers to another -- presumably to be in costume for the film -- or to show how well they multi-task. Every move is choreographed, as they change clothes, recite lines and stay in the character of the moment. Director Evan Yionoulis keeps the action running smoothly.


But their lines, spoken with the local accent, and the jargon itself, make the story itself difficult to follow (despite detailed program notes). And the several flashback scenes add to the confusion.


Thus the story takes second place to the acting which ultimately rises above these barriers. Every character is sharp-edged, real, particularly Morton’s subtle portrayal of the glamorous star, with its unique pace and tone. The temptation (to which most actors succumb when switching gender) is to over-act, giving a cartoon-like performance. But not Morton.


Ultimately, “Stones in His Pocket” is an exercise in fine acting, and for that reason, well worth seeing.


This review also appears in nytheaterscene.com


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