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“Stones In His Pockets”
At The Wilbur Theatre

By R. J. Donovan

Ireland goes Hollywood in “Stones In His Pockets,” at The Shubert Theatre through December 15.

As they take their seats pre-show, the audience sees a huge expanse of celluloid, bordered by film sprocket holes, at the back of the stage. A pastoral Irish countryside is depicted. Lined up beneath it are about 30 pairs of shoes, facing forward. Over the course of the next two hours, two actors will fill all those shoes, metaphorically if not physically.

Written by Marie Jones and based on her own experience acting in films in Ireland, “Stones In His Pockets” is set in an Irish village in County Kerry where a major motion picture is being filmed -- and causing a major culture clash. The townspeople all serve as extras in the film, which, in its own way, lampoons the townspeople themselves.

Playing all the locals as well as the film’s cast and crew are Bronson Pinchot and Tim Ruddy. They anchor the story as Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn, respectively. The action and the other characters are presented from their point of view.

Without benefit of scenery, costumes or makeup, each man morphs into a new character by simply dropping a shoulder, taking on a new walk or merely passing behind the other actor. Some of their mannerisms are particularly subtle, which adds to the fun.

And while it takes a moment to get used to the quick character changes, you eventually fall into the style of the production. Before you’re almost aware of it, the stage is filled with a procession of people, from the vapid, insecure Hollywood starlet to the local drunk.

As the filming unfolds, we find that Charlie has written a script of his own. He hopes to have someone in the company read it and provide him with an entree to the businesses.

In the meantime, Jake is smitten with the film’s American star, Caroline Giovanni. She selects him to spend time with, but to Jake's disappointment, she's not after romance. She ultimately only wants him to help her with her Irish accent for the shoot. In turn, she cruelly rejects a young man who lives to escape his humdrum life via the movies. While high on drugs, he kills himself. The entire town attends the funeral, despite the director’s ravings that the film must be finished within the day.

Both Pinchot and Duffy are given a chance to shine as they make the characters their own. Pinchot, a master of accents, is funny as leading lady Giovanni, but especially wonderful as Brother Jarrod (the catholic school teacher), Clem (the director), Simon (the director’s assistant) and Giovanni’s lunk head of a bodyguard.

Duffy is particularly vivid as Mickey (the handicapped drunk who once worked with John Wayne), Sean (the young man who kills himself), and Ashley (who’s in charge of all the extras).

Although it won the prestigious Olivier Award in London, the show is stronger in storytelling than in story as the plot itself is not unusually absorbing. The novelty of “Stones” lies in having the story creatively presented by two lone chameleons. If twenty real actors were on stage, the play would lose the very thing that provides the intrigue -- imagination.

That said, the production is a bit swallowed up in the Shubert. It was originally written (as the story goes) for just two actors because the scruffy, original theater did not have a budget. In that sense, it belongs in a smaller, more intimate house.

With “Stones In His Pockets,” less is clearly more.

“Stones In His Pockets” is at The Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street in Boston, through December 15. For information, call 800-774-4700.

-- OnStage Boston


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