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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Afloat with Stones in His Pockets

At the feisty little What Exit? Theatre Company in Maplewood, Marie Jones’ international award winning success Stones in His Pockets can be seen in a very fine, quite lovely new production.

The play in its current form premiered in April, 1999 in Belfast in a bare bones production at a small local theatre. Later that year, it triumphed at the Edinburgh Festival. Unaugmented, the play then successfully transferred to London’s West End (where it is still running) and then went on to Broadway. It is now working its magic in New Jersey at a suitably intimate theatre.

Stones in His Pockets is a notable addition to the great tradition of Irish storytelling. It is designed to be played by two actors who, relying almost solely on their acting skills alone, instantaneously change persona in their depiction of about 15 individuals of both sexes. As a multiple number of characters appear in many scenes, this is no small task.

Set on “a spot near a small village in County Kerry,” the play describes the effect that the presence of a Hollywood cast and crew filming a large scale movie has on the struggling inhabitants of the village. Events are seen through the eyes of Charlie (Richard Furlong) and Jake (Steven Cole Hughes), two dissatisfied and struggling young men who strike up a close friendship while working as extras on the film.

The film, as fanciful as the dreams aroused in some of the locals by the presence of Hollywood in their midst, is a period epic in which the aristocratic Mauve falls in love with handsome peasant Rory. A man of the people, Rory wins fair maiden and raises up the adoring local peasantry.

For most of the first act, we are seduced by the cozy humor and jaundiced depiction of theatrical Irish and American archetypes by Jones and her interpreters. However, feminist and political activist Jones has much more on her mind. Jones will eventually show us the sadness and pain beneath the surface of the characters and situations which she introduces with such delightful humor.

The title refers to the suicide of Jake’s cousin, a drug addled youth. After failing to be hired as an extra for the film, and then being imperviously thrown out of the local pub at the behest of the film’s glamorous star Caroline Giovanni, he is seen to fill his pockets with stones before drowning himself in the ocean.

Jones may well downplay real affirmatives which come with the presence of a large film company in a poor Irish village. However, there is no denying that the presumption of privilege, self importance and superiority that must invariably be part of a wealthy invading Hollywood army are ingredients for disaster.

What Next? has found two extraordinary new-to-New Jersey actors for this production. Richard Furlong portrays the more outgoing, jovial and scheming Charlie. Principal among his other roles are Caroline and the film’s flamboyant director. His comic timing and crowd pleasing larger than life portraits are crowd pleasing delights. Yet when he reveals Charlie’s buried frustrations, he is moving and believable.

Steven Cole Hughes plays the more morose Jake. Among his other roles are that of the film’s script girl Ashley, and the only surviving extra from the filming of John Ford’s The Quiet Man. Hughes' characters have a great deal of intensity and the humor in his characterizations is more underplayed.

Often, Hughes is the straight man to the more comic Furlong. And it is in this manner that Hughes and Furlong perform as a terrific comedy team.

For all this, praise must go to director Gary Martins. After a few moments needed to become oriented to the nature of the performances, the rapid fire delivery of the lines and transformations of the characters proceed with utmost clarity.

Fred Kinney’s simple cloth backdrop of a painted clouded Ireland sky which becomes the green of grass as it crosses the floor of the stage serves well. It is about as simple as the original.

The ending has Charlie and Jake planning the screenplay for a film based on their experience as extras which will bear the title Stones in His Pockets.

This is regarded by some as an upbeat ending. While it may be injudicious to assume director Gary Martins' intent in print, he and his actors made me strongly feel that this was just another pipe dream for Charlie and Jake. For me, this made for a clear headed and satisfying conclusion to an endearing and insightful evening of theatre.

Stones in His Pockets continues performances through April 25 at the What Exit? Theatre Company in the Burgdorff Cultural Center, 10 Durand Road, Maplewood, NJ 07040. Box Office: 973-763-4029; online www.whatexittheatre.com

Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones; directed by Gary Martins. Cast: Richard Furlong (Charlie, et al.); Steven Cole Hughes (Jake, et al.)


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Bob Rendell



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