Last week I had a chance to see another play that has been on my radar for some time now, Stones in His Pockets (by Marie Jones; directed by J.R. Sullivan). The story is centered around a former video rental store owner, Charlie Conlon (Brian Vaughn), whose business went bust when a larger competitor moved into town, and Jake Quinn (David Ivers) who just returned from a rather unfruitful trip to America, as well as a number of other locals (all of whom are also played by either Vaughn or Ivers). Both Charlie and Jake are among the townspeople who have been selected to be extras in a Hollywood film that is being filmed near a small village in County Kerry, Ireland.
When we first meet them, they are both excited to have been chosen as extras. Each sees this opportunity as their big break. Charlie wants to finally get someone to read his script -- which he always keeps on-hand, in his back pocket. Jake wants to get noticed so that he may be whisked away to Hollywood and be the next big film star. They are both rather taken by the whole thing, including American film star Caroline Giovanni. Standing in stark contrast is fellow local Mickey, a seventy-some year old man whose first role as an extra was in the 1952 John Wayne film The Quiet Man. Mickey’s take on the whole thing is that they are to do as they are told so that they can get their pay at the end of the day. Simple as that. Charlie and Jake are sucked in (so to speak) even further after their encounter with Caroline at the local pub, where she’s chosen to stop, ostensibly to get a feel for the place and the people. While there, Jake is asked back to her hotel. The next day, as Jake tells Charlie of the previous night’s events, we learn that Caroline asked Jake to have lunch with her in her Winnebago, which they both see as some sort of positive sign that they’re that much closer to stardom themselves.
However, things don’t go quite as they expect, and Jake has in fact been asked over to serve as nothing more than yet another dialogue coach. She doesn’t even want to hear his opinion -- as is evidenced by their exchange, when he tries to tell her that her character wouldn’t have the sort of accent she’s been using in the movie, given how (in real life) the character would have been educated elsewhere -- much less consider him a real contender for the next big star. In fact, we learn, that she really doesn’t have any plans to help anybody become the next big star. She tells Jake that movies “are shit,” which, it could be said, is an attempt to talk him out of his attempt to break into the business, thus keeping the spotlight planted just where she likes it, squarely on herself.
Things only go downhill from there, and Charlie and Jake get an even better view of the one-sided relationship that exists between the townspeople and the film crew, when Sean Harkin, Jake’s cousin and friend of Fin (another local) commits suicide. The extras, all of whom knew Sean given that the village is so small, are (cruelly enough) initially told they will not be allowed time off to attend his funeral. Out of what may be argued to be more of a fear of an uprising of sorts than anything else, they do backtrack -- though not, it should be noted, before Caroline makes an appearance before all of them expressing her transparently insincere condolences on the loss of their their fellow community member and friend. It is here that we really get to see Caroline for who she is -- a user, someone used to acting more in real life than on-screen. One gets the distinct impression that she simply wants to tell the story as scripted, with (disturbingly enough) little to no regard for, understanding of or genuine interest in the real history of the land or its people. In short, all she is concerned with is whether they are able to tell the story they want to tell -- regardless of whether it has any basis in reality whatsoever or whether it is historically accurate -- and her personal monetary gain.
It is shortly after the funeral, as a direct result of what happened to Sean, that the two friends conceive of their own film, which is to be about Sean’s suicide. Though their initial pitch, isn’t successful, the two persist and even end up coming up with an opening sequence and the film’s title, Stones in His Pockets, for the first time really having a direction in -- and, it may be said, taking control of -- their own lives.
On the whole, I found Stones in His Pockets to be a well-acted, engaging play, skillfully done. Stones in His Pockets runs through April 14, 2013 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. To purchase tickets to this production, visit Northlight Theatre’s website, www.northlight.org, or call the Box Office at 847-673-6300. For more information regarding Stones in His Pockets, special events associated with this production, Northlight Theatre, the current season, upcoming 2013-2014 season, and much more, visit www.northlight.org.
Photos: Karl Hugh, courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival