Stones in His Pockets is a small play — charming, wistful, not quite sure what it wants to be. It starts out as one of those clash-of-culture satires. A film company has plumped itself down in a village in rural County Kerry, Ireland, disrupting everyday life. Caroline Giovanni, the lead actress, sashays around, exciting the lust of the locals, issuing orders, enlisting a starstruck villager to coach her on an authentic Irish accent. The director and his minions worry about the endless rain and grumble that the cows don't look sufficiently Irish. The central figures are two men — Jake, a local, and Charley, who left his small home town in search of work when his video store was pushed out of business by a chain — working as extras for forty pounds a day. The actors who play Jake and Charley (Austin Terrell and Seth Maisel, respectively) also take on all the other roles, switching characters in moments, aided by no more than a cap, a prop, a change in posture or vocal tone, and their versatility provides one of the primary pleasures of this Victorian Playhouse production.
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But Stones isn't simply a straightforward satire about cultural integrity versus Hollywood obliviousness. The play shows how the movie industry and the lives of the locals have become almost inextricably intertwined. There's not much work in County Kerry. The farms are dying. The picturesque cows won't be around for much longer if no one films them, and the local folk won't be able to eke out a living. Still, directors have been coming around for decades. In fact, one of the characters is an oldster who's been making his living from the movies here since John Wayne filmed The Quiet Man; he knows the terminology and can exploit the director's needs.
The second act brings the death of one of the extras, and at this point, playwright Marie Jones seems to be going for deeper emotion. But this move doesn't really work. We don't know much about the doomed man; he's just one of many characters brought to life by the two actors, and his death affects us only as it's felt by Jake and Charley. The play starts to seem long, as a lot of points are repeated. When Jake complains bitterly about a relative getting thrown out of the pub — his own pub in his own village — for attempting to approach Giovanni, it's telling. When the point is made a second time, it just feels stale. There's a scene in which the locals, saddened by the death, are asked by the film director to cheer for a celebratory part of the action; they respond halfheartedly. And somehow, this not particularly interesting or complex little event is repeated — twice, I think.
Stones in His Pockets
Presented by the Denver Victorian Playhouse through April 5, 4201 Hooker Street, 303-433-4343, www.denvervic.com.
The two actors take slightly different approaches to the material. Maisel's is broader: He's energetic, sweats visibly and has loads of talent, but he often resorts to caricature — a particular problem in a play focused on authenticity. When his character gets emotional, you don't believe it. The role of movie star Caroline Giovanni is generally thought to be a comment on Tom Cruise's behavior when he visited Ireland over a decade ago to film Far and Away; Maisel's portrayal is most effective when he simply inhabits the person of Caroline, with just a few subtle changes to the way he speaks and walks. And it doesn't work at all when he tosses in coy, stereotypical calendar poses. His best work comes in the few moments during which he plays the warmly empathetic Brother Gerard.
Terrell's acting is more disciplined, specific and far less flamboyant, yet — perhaps paradoxically — often funnier. He's particularly successful as the administrative assistant Ansling, exhorting the extras to smile with a priceless, tight little smile of his own. In one of the best passages, he transforms himself into a shy, fidgety young boy, reading a paper about cows in front of his class. It's at moments like these that the imminent disappearance of a longtime rural community feels like a genuine loss.