Stones In His Pockets
Through Sun., Nov. 23
For every glamorous, overpaid, pampered movie star whose face is always filmed in tight, yet soft, focus, there are hundreds of extras whom we only see from a distance, in a crowd. Marie Jones’ play Stones In His Pockets looks at a movie shoot from the other end of the telescope, putting a pair of extras front and center.
The scene is Ireland, the especially scenic parts of it. Charlie (Christopher Reiling) and Jake (Brian Chamberlain) are two native sons busy on the fringes of a grand Hollywood production. They are given forty quid a day, plus meals, to put on costumes and stand in peat bogs for the camera.
“So, it’s us lookin’ dispossessed,” as Charlie sums up the gig.
“A background bog man — dead glamorous,” Jake concurs.
But to Charlie, the world of movies is indeed a whirl of glamour. He’s just lost his video store and his girlfriend, but he’s not going to let bad luck get in the way of his Hollywood dreams. “This is Charlie’s day of good cheer!” he insists in the face of cheerless circumstances. He shows the script he’s written to every member of the crew, who could not care less about him or it.
Jake is more realistic (or should one say depressed?). He’s just come home from an abortive escape to New York City, and to his eyes, every glass of Guinness looks half-empty. Jake can’t even get excited when the star of the film plies her feminine wiles upon him. Charlie would give his left nut to sleep with a celebrity, and wonders how Jake can pass up a chance to advance. Jake, on the other hand, tries to make Charlie surrender his rags-to-Oscars fantasies.
Jake and Charlie are watchable enough, but what really makes Stones In His Pockets a worthy diversion are the supporting characters — all of whom are also played by Reiling and Chamberlain. There’s Mickey, the leprechaunish elder statesman of the extras; the film’s director, with his constantly put-upon air; the haughty crew members who impatiently shuffle the extras from set to set; and Jake’s teen cousin, whose drug habit has made it impossible for him to find work, even as a human movie prop.
It’s impressive to watch Chamberlain and Reiling populate a whole cast by themselves. They prove nimble in body and mind, leaping fluidly from role to role, making each character quite distinct. Director Stephen Underwood has prepared his two-man troupe well.
Reiling, lithe and limber, does his best work as Caroline Giovanni, the star of the film. She’s a condescending narcissist — she claims to love the Irish because “these people are so simple!” — but while Reiling lets us see Caroline’s casual cruelty, he doesn’t turn her into an easy caricature. He can play a sexpot without descending into camp — no minor feat for a man.
Chamberlain’s meatiest role in Stones is his main one. Jake is painfully aware of the gap between American dreams and the harsh, diminishing reality of small-town Irish life. He went to America and was disappointed by it; now America has followed him home, and he doesn’t want to raise his hopes a second time. “Imagination can be a damned curse in this country,” Chamberlain says. He carries the play’s thematic weight as we watch Jake try to reconcile the life he wants with the life he thinks he can get.
“People don’t go to the movies to get depressed,” says the movie’s director, explaining why the film is sappy and unrealistic. “That’s what the theater’s for.” The audience laughs knowingly. The story of Jake and Charlie doesn’t quite have a Hollywood ending — or does it? Pessimists will say no, optimists will say yes.
Stones In His Pockets is the kind of worthy, low-key character study that Hollywood tends to eschew in favor of CGI and pyrotechnics. That’s fine. Watching two actors take on 15 roles in 90 minutes is enough to remind anyone that the stage has its own kind of special effects.
— Jason Wilkins
Good Theater’s production of Stones In His Pockets runs through Sun., Nov. 23, at the St. Lawrence Arts & Community Center, 76 Congress St., Portland. Performances are Thurs. at 7:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. (3 p.m. matinee on Sat., Nov. 22). Tix: $18-$24. 885-5883. goodtheater.com.