Stones In His Pockets

By Marie Jones
Performed by Christopher Hunt and Shaun Smyth
Directed by Maja Ardal
The Grand Theatre, London
March 7 – 25. 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The Dream: Ireland vs. America

It isn’t enough that every kid growing up in the United States wants the American Dream Hollywood-style. Here in Canada, we worry about Hollywood’s influence and the damage it can do to our cultural identity. So it’s interesting to learn that the Hollywood mystique even reaches across the ocean to Ireland.

Stones In His Pockets, the current show on stage at the Grand Theatre in London, tells of the Irish desire for Hollywood’s glamour. Two Irishmen are “extras” in a Hollywood movie being shot in Ireland’s beautiful countryside. Both Charlie and Jake are seeking the American dream – Jake is just back from a disappointing trip to the US where he had hoped to find work as an actor; Charlie has written a movie script and wants to use this job to find a producer who will read it.

The first act is full of funny stuff, as we see the would-be actors trying to weasel a free dessert on the set, or being star-stuck by the movie’s lead actress. But a tragic turn of events takes the second act into a darker place. Reality replaces the great American dream.

It’s an interesting story, made more appealing by the way it’s presented on stage. Irish writer Marie Jones has created a cast of 15 characters on the set of this movie in a small Irish village. But all 15 are played by two actors. Christopher Hunt is Charlie and Shaun Smyth is Jake. And then, with a twist or a turn, and a change of voice and stance, they are instantly someone else. Both are excellent and make the audience forget that they are shifting from one character to another. The style is reminiscent of Rod Beattie doing the Wingfield shows – even though he’s always wearing a plaid shirt and overalls, Beattie can raise an eyebrow, move his voice up an octave, and Walt Wingfield immediately becomes his wife, Maggie.

Similarly, Hunt pirouettes and Charlie becomes Caroline Giovanni, the glamorous American movie star. He tosses his non-existent hair, prances on non-existent high heels, and the audience roars with laughter. There is always hilarity when a man plays a woman. Hunt also plays Simon, the Irish first assistant director; Clem, the English director of the film; Fin, a local teenager; Brother Gerard, a teacher; Jock, the star’s Scottish bodyguard; and Mr. Harkin.

Smyth switches easily from playing Jake to playing Mickey, a bent-over little old leprechaun of a man who reminds everyone that he is the last living extra from the making of John Wayne’s The Quiet Man. Smyth also plays Aisling, the third assistant director who’s constantly telling the cast to “settle”; Sean, a teenaged druggie who’s not welcome on the set; John, the star’s dialect coach; Dave, a crew member; and a reporter from the County Kerry News.

Credit goes to director Maja Ardal for creating all these characters from just two actors. She keeps the audience laughing while still delivering a somewhat serious message. Ardal directed The Foursome, Norm Foster’s popular golf comedy at the Grand last year.

The set is simple, but works well – a few meagre props tell the audience whether they are outdoors, in a dressing room, or at the local pub.

Without the talented actors playing all the roles, this play could easily fall flat. Hunt and Smyth keep the audience fascinated by making so many characters come alive. The show concludes with the two of them dancing an Irish jig, but each time they spin around, another character steps into the dance. Just seeing the different ways they morph into different people makes this a worthwhile night out.

Stones In His Pockets continues at the Grand Theatre in London until March 25. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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