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Stones in His Pockets
Aux Dog Theatre

Also see Rob's reviews of The Seafarer of Time Stands Still

Stones in His Pockets
Ed Chavez and Micah Linford
Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones is one of the five plays comprising the Southwest Irish Theater Festival, an undertaking in which five different Albuquerque theaters present five different plays by Irish writers, all within a two-month span. Stones follows on the heels of The Cripple of Inishmaan, which recently closed at the Vortex Theatre. I think it's coincidental (and I don't mean this ironically) that both plays come from 1996, deal with the effect that American filmmakers have on the locals in a small town in the west of Ireland, have one character who goes off to try to make it in the States and returns home disillusioned, and are comedies with some sadness thrown in.

Otherwise, the two plays are quite different (besides the fact that Inishmaan takes place in 1933 and Stones seems to take place in the 1990s). Inishmaan is traditionally cast, whereas Stones is what I call a "gimmick" play: here, the gimmick is that all of the fifteen or so roles are played by only two actors. As in the recent version of The 39 Steps, the fun of it (and its whole reason for being, I think) lies in seeing actors change in a split second from one character into another. In The 39 Steps, costume changes were involved, but here the actors transform themselves only by voice, accent and mannerisms. They don't step off stage and return as somebody else. They simply twirl around or sit down and stand up, and suddenly they are someone else. It took a few minutes for me to sort out who were the main characters and who the subsidiary characters, but it soon became easy enough to follow.

We are mainly observing two extras during the filming of one of those Hollywood epics that gives us a phony, nostalgic, Americanized picture of Ireland. I have never seen Far and Away, but I imagine that's the kind of movie this play is referring to. The two extras are Jake Quinn (played by Micah Linford) and Charlie Conlon (Ed Chavez). We also see the American female star of the movie, who can't get the Irish accent down to save her life; the director; a couple of production assistants; a crusty old local, who is one of the few surviving extras from The Quiet Man; an ill-fated cousin of Jake; and a few more minor characters. All of them played by Linford and Chavez.

The plot, what there is of it, is for you to figure out as you watch the play. I think there is some metaphorical allusion to Ireland's economic "miracle" in the 1990s, when foreigners were pouring money into the country and, as the play says, some of the locals were making twice the income they had made the year before, and some of the poorer folk were being priced out of their own land. We know now that it was a bubble even bigger than our own, but at least the Irish can blame outsiders to some extent.

I have a couple quibbles with the play itself. Is it likely that the Hollywood movie star would know a poem by Seamus Heaney well enough to correct Jake when he tries to impress her by quoting it as if it were his own? (The poem, by the way, is the "Exposure" section of a long poem called Singing School. Maybe it's more famous than I know.) And I was disappointed by the ending of the play. It reminds me of one of those "Saturday Night Live" sketches that is really clever and funny until they don't know how to end it, so they get all postmodern and self-referential. Here, our two main characters say why don't they do a movie in which "the extras are the stars and the stars are the extras" and call it Stones in His Pockets. In other words, the play you just saw.

But none of this is very important. The real reason to see the play is to see two actors acting. For the most part, Linford and Chavez do an outstanding job. Not only do they have to use Irish accents, but they have to use different Irish accents, and as far as I could tell, they do a great job with them. For this, dialect coach Alan Hudson, a native Irishman, deserves a lot of credit (as well as credit for being one of the instigators of the Irish Theater Festival). At the performance I attended, I thought I detected a little of what I would term "accent fatigue" in Ed Chavez toward the end of the play—some American intonations started creeping in. It must be mentally fatiguing to keep up an accent for a couple hours, just as it is tiring to speak a foreign language for a long time. You want to lapse back into your native speech patterns and relax.

Linford and Chavez delineate all of the characters so well that we soon forget the "gimmick" and start seeing them as real personalities. Some of the mannerisms they use for the secondary characters are pretty florid, but so what? They're doing comedy, for the most part. And, besides, they don't have costumes to work with. Terry Davis, the director, keeps the action flowing rapidly and seamlessly. The set is simple but the painted backdrop (apparently by David Newman and Dale Diamond) is lovely and is bracketed by film sprockets—a reference to the movie set on which the play takes place and to the "movie Ireland" that the Hollywood crew is filming, but maybe also to let us know that what we are seeing on stage is as artificial as any film.

Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones is being presented at the Aux Dog Theatre, on Monte Vista near Central in Albuquerque, through March 25, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 and Sundays at 2:00. For reservations and information, see auxdog.com.


Photo: VJ Liberatori

--Dean Yannias



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