‘Stones in His Pockets’ captures Celtic spirit
Brian Vaughn and David Ivers star in "Stones in His Pockets" at Northlight Theatre. | Photo by Karl Hugh
‘Stones in His Pockets’
through April 14
Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd.
Northlight.org; (847) 673-6300
Updated: March 20, 2013 11:40AM
In “Stones in His Pockets,” playwright Marie Jones creates a juicy tour-de-force for two actors.
She also captures that singularly Irish temperament that is at once tragic and comic, giving audiences a vivid concoction of humor and sorrow. This is a piece that is all about duality — a vivid portrait of laughter embedded with sadness and an intelligent, cutting glimpse at the clash between the rich, famous and powerful with the borderline impoverished.
Directed by J.R. Sullivan for Northlight Theatre, the minimalist production skips simple sentiment (you’ll find no leprechauns here). Instead, we get an incisive look at the hardships and the hopes within a rural village on County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula.
At the deceptively complex heart of “Stones in His Pockets” are Jake Quinn (David Ivers) and Charlie Conlon (Brian Vaughn), both of whom sign on as extras when a Hollywood film crew rolls into town to shoot a movie called “The Quiet Valley.” For 40 quid a day, Charlie and Jake are immersed in a world of condescending stars perpetuating emerald-tinged stereotypes, their lives reduced for mass consumption to postcard views of hand-knit sweaters and pastorally rolling green hills.
The real story of County Kerry, of course, is far more complicated and far less romantic than that created for the would-be blockbuster. As for Jake and Charlie, they quickly find that working as an extra brings more than desperately needed income and the occasional slice of free pie. For both, the work is an eye-opening exercise illuminating the gulf between the Hollywood haves and the Irish have-nots. Charlie and Jake are inconsequential extras not just in the micro-world of “The Quiet Valley,” but also in a macro-world filled with rich, powerful folk who are clueless as to their impact on workaday strugglers.
The starkest contrast between Ireland and Hollywood’s dream manufacturers lies in the character of Jake’s cousin, Sean Quinn, a young man whose dreams have been repeatedly snuffed out and who has turned to alcohol and drugs to blunt the razor edges of his losses. It’s his painful interaction with the film’s culturally clueless leading lady that propels the tragedy that largely defines “Stones in His Pockets,” and that puts Hollywood’s opinion of the Dingle Peninsula locals into sharp, unforgiving focus. But even Sean’s fate can’t completely douse the aspirations of Charlie and Jake, whose attempts at writing their own screenplay give Jones’ play a steely thread of unquenchable optimism.
Vaughn and Ivers are masters of quicksilver transformation — a core requirement in a production in which all of the character changes occur onstage and without the help of much costuming. From pampered star to assistant director to doomed County Kerry native, Vaughn and Ivers make the people of “Stones in His Pockets” pop with authenticity. That they do so using little but their voices, posture and the occasional doffing of a cap speaks to their collective acting prowess.
In the wake of the commercialization of St. Patrick’s Day, Northlight’s production of “Stones in His Pockets” is a thoughtful anecdote that evokes both the laughter and the tears inherent to the Celtic sensibility.