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Theater & art

Stage Review

Lyric Stage cuts to the heart of ‘Stones in His Pockets’

Phil Tayler and Daniel Berger-Jones play all 15 characters in “Stones in His Pockets.”

Mark S. Howard

Phil Tayler and Daniel Berger-Jones play all 15 characters in “Stones in His Pockets.”

At one point in Marie Jones’s “Stones in His Pockets,” an extra in a Hollywood film being shot in County Kerry, Ireland, laments that even that aspect of the Irish economy is dying out. Moviemakers, Jake Quinn says, “have used up most of the 40 shades of green.” There is, however, no end to the shades of green in the Belfast-born Jones’s two-actor, 15-character play, whether it’s the green of the Emerald Isle or the green of the 40 pounds a day that the local extras are receiving. And in the production directed by Courtney O’Connor at the Lyric Stage Company, there’s plenty to think about as well as laugh at.

Jake, on the dole and living with his ma after a short stay in New York, wants to be a film star; the play’s other main character, failed video-store owner Charlie Conlon, has blown in from Antrim with a film script of his own. The movie they’re in, “The Quiet Valley,” has an English director, Clem, and an American leading lady, megastar Caroline Giovanni. Jake and Charlie have to put up with a pair of patronizing assistant directors, Simon and Aisling; Caroline’s inept accent coach, John; and her bodyguard, Jock. Their fellow Irish actors include Mickey, the last surviving extra from John Ford’s 1952 film “The Quiet Man,” and local lad Seán, who won’t survive as an extra on “The Quiet Valley” if he doesn’t lay off the dope and the drink.

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The Hollywood folks are, of course, clueless. Clem complains that the native cows are “not Irish enough.” Caroline calls Kerry “heaven on earth” and says to the extras, “You people are so simple, uncomplicated, contented.” But the exploitation doesn’t go in just one direction. Charlie, anticipating a scene that’s about to be shot, exclaims, “All us diggin’ away at the turf . . . and all the time the fiddles playing in the background . . . I love the movies.” Both Charlie and Jake are in their 30s and jobless; Jake will never be a movie star, and Charlie would be lucky to get even the Irish Film Board to look at his script. The Ireland Hollywood has created is the Ireland they’re longing to live in.

Matthew Whiton’s simple, effective set for the Lyric Stage is not that Ireland: a dry stone wall along the back, a clothes rack with a half-dozen coats, and, on either side of the stage, a vertical row of pegs hung with hats and caps. The actors also do a lot with a little. Phil Tayler is a banty rooster of a Jake, hooking his thumbs in his waistband as he struts and preens and whines. Daniel Berger-Jones’s Charlie is a big, generous, optimistic lout whose tongue lolls out when he gets a gander at Caroline.

There’s not much in the way of costume changes, but the pair convey their various characters by taking off a cap, or turning it backward, or using a scarf as a head shawl. Squeaky-voiced and hobbling, Tayler is a hoot as “wee Mickey”; the next moment he’s an explosion of expletives as the frustrated Seán. Berger-Jones switches deftly from English Clem to Irish Simon to Scottish Jock. (The Lyric’s dialect coach, Nina Zendejas, is a big improvement on John.) Tayler’s mincing, swivel-hipped Aisling is one-dimensional, and Berger-Jones doesn’t quite take Caroline beyond caricature. But there are many lovely details here, like the way Margo Caddell’s lighting changes to signal past events, and the playing of the traditional song “Báidín Fheidhlimidh” during Jake’s tete-a-tete with Caroline. And Tayler and Berger-Jones are so good-hearted and genuine throughout that when they finally hit on the idea of making a movie that stars cows, you might actually want to see it.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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