Stones in His Pockets: Heavy on Dialogue; Light on Plot
By Amy J. Barry
Stones in His Pockets at Yale Repertory Theatre is an eccentric little play that the Associated Press describes as “inventive and riotously funny.” Inventive -- absolutely. Riotously funny? Not so much, although it has its amusing moments.
The play, written by Marie Jones, premiered at the West Belfast Festival in 1996, worked its way up to London’s West End where it had a successful three-year run, and then moved on to Broadway in 2001 where it was nominated for three Tony Awards.
The action -- not that there is that much going on in the dialogue-driven play -- takes place in the Irish countryside where a Hollywood film crew has recently descended to make a movie titled The Quiet Valley that embodies a romanticized notion of what is genuinely Irish.
There are two central characters in the two-person tour de force. Euan Morton (a native of Scotland) plays Charlie Conlon, a hopeful screenwriter with a script in his back pocket that he can’t get anyone to consider. Fred Arsenault plays Jake Quinn, an aspiring film star who just returned from an unsuccessful stint in New York. The Irishmen have been relegated to being extras on the set, like many of the residents of the rural town. In addition, Arsenault and Morton play another 13 characters between them -- both men and women.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot of effort on the part of the audience to keep up with all the changing characters, despite the exemplary efforts of the talented actors, who have the accents and attitudes down pat and play off each other with ease. Arsenault and Morton ably inhabit whichever role they’re in—whether it’s Jake’s love interest, Caroline Giovanni, the beautiful but ditzy American star who can’t produce an Irish accent to save her life (played to perfection by Morton); Clem, the director, who insists that “People don’t go to the movies to get depressed, that’s what the theater is for”; Mickey Riordan, who proudly points out that he’s one of the last living extras in the 1952 John Wayne classic The Quiet Man, shot in the same region of Ireland ... or a host of other colorful characters.
The problem is in the bumpy segues from one role to another, which is the responsibility of the writer and director to delineate more clearly. Even the costume changes are hard to figure out and don’t seem to flag any of the specific characters being performed.
There are several laugh out loud interactions when physical comedy is employed—and we yearn for more. There are also dead serious scenes, such as when, after having his hopes and dreams dashed, local teenager Sean Harkin drowns himself with stones in his pockets, hence the title of the play. These mood shifts feel too abrupt and it’s hard to connect with the character in such snapshot moments.
One of the biggest laughter producers is at the beginning of Act II when Charlie and Jake are watching the rough cut of the awful movie they’re making, projected on a big screen with Morton in a big bonnet as Caroline, playing the dramatic heroine to the hilt with horses and cows staring mournfully into the camera in every scene.
Edward T. Morris’s minimalist set of a green field rolling out from the horizon is fairly static throughout, although his projections of a dramatic Irish sky adds some visual interest.
Stones in His Pockets continues through Feb. 16 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Tickets and information online at www.yalerep.org or by calling the box office at 203-432-1234.
This review appeared in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.