The Hollywood dream factory proves both a boon and a bane for the residents of a small Irish town in Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets, a play that gives us a laugh as well as moments of sober reflection.
Center Stage’s superb production, imaginatively staged by director Derek Goldman as a great deal more visual and visceral than a yarn well-told in an Irish pub, features a cast of thousands packed into the hearts and minds of two actors—Clinton Brandhagen and Todd Lawson.
With a flick of a scarf or the twist of a shoulder, Mr. Brandhagen and Mr. Lawson transform themselves into the hardscrabble denizens of a village in Kerry, not to mention the Hollywood cast and crew that descend on the town and pump up the economy while purloining its “Irish authenticity.”
The play’s two main characters, Charlie (Brandhagen) and Jake (Lawson) represent both sides of the conundrum. Both are extras in the movie “The Quiet Valley” starring self-absorbed superstar Caroline Giovanni and the 40 quid per day (the play takes place before the euro) and the catered meals are riches beyond compare. Charlie is the cheerful, shy and optimistic one; Jake more moody and conflicted.
Between the “hurry up and wait” world of a movie set, Charlie and Jake hang out with the other extras and observe the goings-on with the Tinseltown interlopers. The bearded Mr. Brandhagen agilely captures the snake-hipped, alluring Caroline Giovanni, right down to her swan-like hand gestures and her girlish Jackie O voice. He even gets to vamp it up with Mr. Lawson’s Jake in a carefully contrived seduction scene in her trailer, where she reduces him to mush while serving coffee—who knew “Cream?” “Sugar?” and the accompanying domestic movements could be so hot? He also flawlessly switches gears to play the dictatorial director Simon.
Mr. Lawson also gets the chance to switch genders as Ashlyn, the bubbly assistant director who gets pumped up about everything, whether it’s urging on the extras or dispensing transportation arrangements. Mr. Lawson flips an invisible ponytail and bounces like a born cheerleader to great comic effect. He also vividly conjures the image of town character Mickey, the last surviving extra from the John Wayne movie “The Quiet Man.” With a squint, a tremble and squatting low to play the diminutive Mickey, Mr. Lawson gives us a portrait of a geezer who knows the ropes but also knows what is right. Movement consultant Mark Jaster from Happenstance Theatre served a movement coach and hones the characters through impeccably physical nuances and details.
STONES IN HIS POCKETS
Closes February 23, 2014
700 North Calvert Street
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $10 – $69
Tuesdays thru Sundays
While this enjoyable acting exercise could be done anywhere, even a spare set, Mr. Goldman has chosen to give the feeling that the influence of the movie industry is omnipotent. Scenic designer Misha Kachman gives us the fluffy white clouds, impossibly blue skies and stone walls of County Kerry, but he also includes boom mikes and a camera on a dolly in the center of the stage to remind us that the priority is the film—or “fill-um” as Charlie and Jake say.
Not even the tragic figure of Sean (played with touching pathos by Mr. Lawson), a drug-wrecked local with nothing left to believe in, can derail this movie. In contrast to Sean’s troubles, which unite the town, Mr. Goldman lightens things with the device of showing footage of Charlie and Jake’s takes.
Try to keep from giggling when the back wall lights up with Charlie and Jake dutifully following instructions and peering into the camera with outlandishly grim hatchet faces, looking pleading and later making merry in a party scene by doing a two-man production of “Riverdance.”
The town will never be the same after the movie wraps and Miss Jones’ play seems to ask whether the people were better off hopeless or whether it is essential that they dream a little and imagine a future where their star burns bright instead of out.
Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones . Directed by Derek Goldman . Featuring Clinton Brandhagen and Todd Lawson . Scenic Designer Mikhail Kachman . Costume Designer Ivania Stack . Lighting Designer Jennifer Schriever . Sound Designer Andre Pluess . Projection Designer Jared Mezzocchi . Choreographer Mark Jaster and Emma Crane Jaster . Stage Manager Captain Kate Murphy and Laura Smith . Dramaturg Catherine Maria Rodriguez . Voice/Dialect Director Leigh Wilson Smiley . Casting Director Stephanie Klapper . Produced by Center Stage . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.