Marie Jones, known on occasion as “The Bard of Belfast,” has said that many of her plays come from time spent as a young girl tagging along with her mother to an aunt’s house, where, over a bottle of port, the two women would swap remembrances of people and places, embellishing where necessary, exaggerating always. Ah, what tales.
The adult Jones obviously developed keen listening skills and also what the Irish Times has called “wryly accurate powers of observation.” Her plays, from the early “The Blind Fiddler of Glenadauch” to the moving “A Night in November” – a memorable version was produced by Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre many years ago – all highlight humor and heartbreak, dreams and defeats and laughter amid losses.
Enter “Stones in His Pockets,” a tragic/comic mix, a likable, charming, often sad story of two County Kerry lads, Charlie and Jake, and their short fling with a Hollywood film crew that has come to their “scenic spot in a small village” to record for posterity their idea of quaint, cows and all. For these two broke, going-nowhere lads, a stint as an “extra” is a godsend, providing a little cash for a pint at the pub and a chance to rub elbows with some stereotypical Tinseltown folk: the sexy, shallow starlet; the imperious director; tech people; various toadies; plus the oldest surviving cast member of the long-ago John Ford/John Wayne classic, “The Quiet Man.”
On the movie set and in the village, characters are many, and in unique but increasingly popular fashion, all 16 are played by two actors in this Irish Classical Theatre production: the rotund, energized, marvelously animated Kevin Craig and lanky newcomer Christopher Evans, who comes to town with a satchel full of Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekhov credits. Christian Brandjes directs – he must like this multiple-role format because a season ago, on the ICTC stage, he romped through age and gender changes with Chris Kelly in “A Couple of Blaguards.” Here he has assembled a mostly fast and poignant moment in time for Charlie and Jake, although “Stones” takes a dark turn with the death of town boy Sean, a troubled buddy who is mocked and embarrassed by the arrogant film team and put down by his friends.
The play’s title reflects this terrible event that serves as a catalyst for a belated epiphany by the lads: these Hollywood-types don’t care two twigs about us, our history, our plight, our decline, our potential. The story gets a tad tiresome despite some wordless but Brandjes-inspired movie “takes,” ending somewhat contrived, the lads hatching ideas for their own movie, “telling their own story,” but Craig and Evans are nevertheless fun up to the last.
Special note should be made of actor Craig, bounding about in the ICTC round, slouching here, strutting with false bravado there, teasing himself, compounding his difficulties, hilarious as Caroline, the sex kitten, touching as an old priest recalling the departed Sean. Craig goes over-the-top infrequently and shows that he knows that comedy need not always be central. Stellar work nicely aided by the impressive and equally able Evans.
At play’s end, when the fledgling plot for the homemade film is being discussed, Craig’s Charlie says that audiences shouldn’t worry about any sad themes. “People don’t go to the movies to be depressed,” he says. “That’s what theater is for.”
Great line by playwright Jones but maybe too harsh in regard to “Stones in His Pockets.” Reality and resilience, yes; depression and desperation, no.
It’s what we expect from an Irish playwright.
3½ stars (Out of four)
What: “Stones in His Pockets”
Where: Irish Classical Theatre, 625 Main St.
When: Through March 23
Info: 853-4282, www.irishclassicaltheatre.com