“Kids these days,” or so I’m told, use “extra” as an adjective to denote that something is more than what is usual, expected, or necessary. As a noun, it means a person hired daily to play a minor part in a movie or a television show, usually as a background member of a mob or crowd. It’s this latter meaning, the often-overlooked human extra, that Keegan Theatre shines its spotlight on in its superb production of Stones in His Pockets.
Written by Belfast-based playwright Marie Jones and first staged in 1996, Stones in His Pockets has been produced in more than 30 countries—including a successful run on London’s West End—and has garnered numerous awards. Despite being more than 20 years old, Jones’s themes remain strikingly evergreen and relevant today.
Jake (Matthew J. Keenan, who also doubles as the production’s set designer) and Charlie (Josh Sticklin, also pulling double duty as production manager) are extras making 40 quid a day to play townsfolk in an American period piece entitled The Hidden Valley, which is filming in County Kerry, Ireland. Charlie has just returned home after a stint living in the U.S., while Jake has been traveling the country following being forced to shut down his video rental store after it’s driven out of business by a massive chain (named Extravision, wink, wink).
Working on the movie is one of the few decent-paying jobs available in a town that has been rendered nearly obsolete as the local farms have slowly died out, one after another. Despite Jake’s world-weary pessimism and Charlie’s eternal optimism (he has a script he’d like you to read!), the two strike up an immediate friendship.
As the person sitting next to me noted at intermission, the production is a veritable master class in acting. Keenan and Sticklin convincingly inhabit a myriad of roles in addition to Jack and Charlie. These include other townspeople, the film’s crew, childhood versions of themselves, etc., all the while seamlessly and often hilariously transitioning between accents, ages, and genders. Stones in His Pockets may be a two-hander, but there is a mighty array of fingers on each hand.
The actors’ talented performances are aided by Abigail Isaac Fine’s deft direction, which takes full advantage of the small stage, and subtly clever sound and lighting design by husband-and-wife duo Dan Deiter and Megan Thrift, respectively. High-quality projections by G. Ryan Smith also help to tell this story in a captivating way.
Stones in His Pockets
closes October 15, 2017
Details and tickets
Keegan doesn’t provide a “why now” note for this production, but many of the piece’s themes are mighty timely. In examining the plight of members of the rural, working-class community that that feels ignored and disrespected by out-of-touch elites, it’s not difficult to conjure images of a certain recent American presidential election. At one point, Jake even utters the words, “It’s outsiders coming in and taking our jobs we don’t like.”
But the pathos created by the cast’s performances keep politics mostly at the back of the audience’s mind. Instead, we’re left to consider an authentically-felt tale of what happens to a person when he or she has no options, no future, and no way out. Stones in His Pocket is billed as a tragicomedy, and there are indeed many moments of both uproarious laughter and also heavy seriousness—it’s reflective of real life in that way. And while this superlative production entertains, it also begs each and every one of us to take a long, hard look at the “extras” in the background—not just in movies, but in our everyday lives as well.
Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones. Directed by Abigail Isaac Fine. Cast: Matthew J. Keenan and Josh Sticklin. Set designer: Matthew J. Keenan. Projection designer: G. Ryan Smith. Light designer: Megan Thrift. Sound designer: Dan Deiter. Set dressing and properties designer: Cindy Landrum Jacobs. Hair/makeup designer: Craig Miller. Costume designer: Nitya Ramlogan. Dramaturg: Clarke Whitehead. Stage manager: Aria Velz. Produced by Keegan Theatre. Reviewed by John Bavoso.