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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Stones In His Pockets at The Curran Theater


Marie Jones' comedy hit, Stones In His Pockets, opened at the Curran Theatre on Wednesday as part of the Best of Broadway series. This is the second time I have seen this delightful Irish comedy-drama since it was first presented at the Magic Theater in 1999. The play had its American premiere at that small theatre with two of the Bay Area's most talented actors, Mark Phillips and Kurt Reinhardt, starring in the two man production. This production, presented in association with the Globe Theatre of San Diego, is one half hour longer and it takes a long time to get to the point. It is also less charming and not as magical as the Magic Theatre production. The large stage of the Curran does not encourage the intimacy of the play. The first fifteen minutes are confusing with the two actors changing rapidly into other characters. At first it is hard to distinguish which characters the actors are playing. The Irish brogue, difficult to understand at first, becomes clearer as the show goes on. Stones in His Pocket is still a humorous play with dramatic overtones and the two actors are superb in all of their 15 roles.

Stones In His Pocket premiered in Belfast, Northern Ireland around 1999 and was a runaway hit in London in 2000, where it won Best Comedy awards from The Evening Standard and the Olivier Award Committee. The London Times said "If there is a more cleverly constructed, enterprisingly acted play on offer in London right now, I cannot think of it." Stones... opened to critical acclaim at the Golden Theatre in New York in 2001. It received three Tony nominations that year, two for the actors and one for director Ian McElhinney.

Stones in His Pockets is set in a small village in County Kerry in rural Ireland where a major Hollywood studio is making a mega-hit film called A Quiet Valley. The company is using local people as extras. Charlie Conlon, played by Bronson Pinchot, and Jake Quinn, played by Christopher Burns, are two down and out Irishmen, happy to be making 40 pounds a day as extras. We see their desires, hopes and fears in the two hour production. Charlie is an outsider who has drifted from another part of Ireland to Kerry. He carries in his back pocket a battered screenplay. He hopes someone of importance connected with the film will look at his script and this will insure his fame. Jake has recently returned from America because he was "homesick" for Ireland. He is depressed by the economics of the region whereas Charles is upbeat and optimistic - at first.

Most of Hollywood's "in people" have always believed that the play is a veiled attempt, using the title A Quiet Valley, to refer to Ron Howard's filming of Far and Away with one of the characters, Caroline Giovanni, being a reference to Tom Cruise. Act one is mostly comedy with real humor oozing from the stage at every opportunity. One of the funniest moments is when southern accented Caroline, played by Bronson, is attempting an Irish accent. Pinchot plays the Hollywood sex symbol diva to the hilt. He prances about the stage, primps the imaginary curls on his head by slowly draping his vest over his head to make it look like a turban, draping himself vampishly around Burns' Jake. It is a lively scene.

Act two becomes more serious with a tragedy happening to one of the extras on the film. There is less laughter and more drama between the two actors. However, there are some funny spots in this act, especially when the assistant director tells the extras to do an Irish dance. Both Bronson and Burns break out in a Riverdance segment. They perform this as accomplished dancers rather than mere extras. It is a crowd pleaser.

The two actors take on many roles in rapid succession. They easily go from trendy movie moguls to slouching Irish underdogs. Pinchot has the showiest role of the two by playing Caroline, an impatient assistant director and even a Catholic Brother. He makes the most of his comedy talent in all of his roles. Burns' best role, besides Jake, is playing the oldest living survivor of The Quiet Man. He is slick as a stoop shouldered 80 year-old man who is proud of knowing The Duke, John Wayne. He also plays a fey assistant to the assistant film director. You almost forget that there are only two people playing all of these roles as the play progresses.

The large stage is mostly bare with the exception of a large painted film strip showing a clouded sky as a backdrop. A trunk and some chairs are used as props. The actors look like fugitives from a rural Irish movie scene. If you love Irish humor, this could be your cup of tea, Irish tea that is.

Stones in His Pockets runs through May 12. Tickets are $34 to $59. Call (415)512-7770 for tickets or visit www.best of broadway-sf.com.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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