Stones in His Pockets
The play of the year
by Sally Mitani
From the April, 2015 issue
Hilarious, brilliant, engaging, slapsticky, cerebral, challenging. And in 1999, when it was first produced, Stones in His Pockets, a play by Marie Jones, was joltingly original, too.
In the intervening years, either by cultural osmosis or more direct means, some of its story lines have been appropriated by other offbeat geniuses. Ricky Gervais used one of its premises for his screechingly funny series Extras, when he put the spotlight on a pair of extras on a movie set and made the movie's heavy hitters into minor characters. Playwright Martin McDonagh seems to have lifted another one for The Cripple of Inishmaan--like Stones in His Pockets, it's set in a western Ireland hamlet that has been enslaved by a movie crew who wants the townsfolk to behave like the yokels they never were.
There's still a third distinctive twist to the script that I don't think anyone else has used yet, though I might be wrong: the two actors who play the extras, Jake and Charlie, also play all the other parts--and Stones has about the usual number of characters (a dozen?) and conversations (hundreds?) you see in a two-act stage story. Sometimes the character switch is just for a line or two: Jake or Charlie will smoothly don a hat or whip a prop out of a pocket and suddenly be someone else and just as swiftly return to being Jake or Charlie. A play packed with such crazy, antic magic tricks could hardly be expected to have much of a story, could it? And yet it does have a fine and touching story, one that any conventional Hollywood producer would be proud to bankroll, though it doesn't begin to emerge until fairly late.
So far, I'm talking only about the script. What about the production, at the newly resurrected Performance Network? (PN died and was reborn. If you missed that chapter, it doesn't matter because it's back in the same place.) Both Wayne David Parker as Charlie and
Andrew Huff as Jake are dizzying to watch. They're both born scene-stealers. Parker, a physical comedian of great prowess, has approached every role in his long career like a high-wire circus act--he makes even the act of speaking a business of visible muscular precision. Playing several roles at once, he gives you a chance to see him really pull out all the stops. Huff is a subtler, more organic actor, the Abbott to Parker's Costello, and has the hard task of steering what starts out as a postmodern vaudevillian act into a straighter drama. There is, to be sure, a kind of bait-and-switch moment when you realize the disparate comedic shenanigans you're watching have suddenly coalesced into a story. It may be a sense that it's two plays stitched together just a little too awkwardly that has kept Stones from A-list fame. Or it may be that it's very, very difficult to find two actors who can do this.
If you don't see any other play this year, see this one before it ends its run on April 5.
[Originally published in April, 2015.]
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