Stones in His Pockets

With David Stahl and Michael Stuart playing everyone in County Kerry, this Irish comedy is a delight from beginning to end

Arts Review

Stones in His Pockets

Larry L. King Theatre, through March 9

Running time: 1 hr, 40 min

They're makin' a movie in County Kerry, doncha know, those people from Hollywood, with their cameras and trailers and starlets and lines of coke. They've hired most of the men in the village to play the dispossessed and the downtrodden, three hunnert and fifty in all, at 40 quid a day. They've even hired ol' Mickey, the last survivin' extra from when the Duke himself was in The Quiet Man. But some they won't hire because some have been infected by the drugs that have found their way from the cities to the country. Young men like Sean, who wants nothin' more than to stand in the background and feel like he's a part of things, the same way he did when he was young and gazed upon the cows in the fields. Some they just won't give the chance, so some of those despair, fillin' their pockets with stones and walkin' into the water.

Hopefully, I haven't given too much away. The title of this Marie Jones script is, at least at first glance, a curiosity, and perhaps knowing the event from which the play draws its name will be helpful for those attending who are unfamiliar with the story. Because while Sean and his untimely death are the touchstones of this Irish tale, the play isn't about death so much as it is about dreams and their doing and undoing, especially the dreams of two of the extras: Jake Quinn, who's traveled to America and returned with dreams deferred, and Charlie Conlon, who's written a script he believes will make him part of the dream machine, if only he can get one of those Hollywood types to read it. David Stahl plays Jake, and Michael Stuart plays Charlie. In fact, Stahl and Stuart play all the roles, and while only 13 characters are listed in the program, I could swear they played more – and most likely did, given the 15 pairs of shoes that serve as part of the set design. While mostly they play together, on more than one occasion they play scenes with themselves, one or the other of them handling two characters conversing at once, changing roles by augmenting their Irish brogues and turning their hats a different way. On another occasion, they both talk at the same time and run the lines over each other, skillfully creating the feel of a crowded room. But more often than not, it's the two of them together, assaying the men, the women, and the boys of Hollywood and of County Kerry.

The Austin Playhouse production runs like a well-oiled machine, and while much of the credit for that must go to Stahl and Stuart, who almost never let the tempo lag while allowing most of the more dramatic moments to play themselves out, some credit must go to director Don Toner, who, besides wisely choosing to trust his two much-more-than-competent actors, stages this 2001 Laurence Olivier Award winner for Best Comedy much like the original production was staged: with a backdrop of blue sky and green field, a few stools, a bench, a large wicker basket, and the aforementioned 15 pairs of shoes lining the back wall of the stage. With the Gunn Brothers providing some fine Irish music to augment the settings, the evening is pretty much a delight from beginning to end, and while I would have preferred a slightly slower tempo to start the show, and perhaps some well-placed light cues to help me and everyone else watching adjust to the fact that two actors were playing everyone and his brother, Stahl and Stuart command the stage, as well as our undivided attention, from beginning to end.

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Stones in His Pockets, Austin Playhouse, Don Toner, David Stahl, Michael Stuart

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