When I say the performances of Ryan Brock and Mike Raab in Theatre in the Park's production of Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets are dizzying, I mean that literally. The production requires the two actors to embody more than a dozen characters, transitions accompanied by quickly turning on their feet and changing their voice and body language.
Over the course of the play, they take on the personas of little children, old men, rich people, poor people and even a haughty actress. By the time one of Raab's characters is arguing with another as he hops up and down onto a wall, you might find yourself worried for the actor's safety.
Stones is an odd mixture of satire and sorrow, and Theatre in the Park's production is strongest when it focuses on the satire. A film crew has come to a small Irish community to make a Hollywood movie, a common occurrence that has resulted in the locals becoming increasingly jaded (one elderly resident claims to have been in John Ford's The Quiet Man back in 1952). While the area has apparently been used to provide an "authentic" Irish backdrop for films many times, for the starving and impoverished locals, it's a chance for "40 quid a day" and a square meal as extras in the idealized vision on screen.
Two locals, Charlie (Brock) and Jake (Raab), befriend one another on this set; Charlie's recently seen his video store go under thanks to the incursion of a Blockbuster-type chain (a sign this play was written in the 1990s), while Jake is back from a failed excursion to America.
Charlie has delusions of getting the film's producers to look at his screenplay, while Jake is just happy for an opportunity to get out of his mother's house. As time wears on, Jake attracts the attentions of the film's pretentious lead (Brock again), while a teenager (Raab again) attempts to get on the production, with tragic results.
That tragedy, which gives the play its title, represents the emotional core of the story, but the production is more effective when it treats the culture clash as light comedy. Both Brock and Raab have excellent Irish accents, and both are also able to switch characters quickly and effectively; an arched back takes Brock from male to female, while a hunch turns Raab into an old man.
The darkness, though, comes off as less shocking than discordant. There's such a sense of high comic energy throughout the first half and through much of the second half that the more somber moments feel like they come from, say, Dancing at Lughnasa or The Beauty Queen of Leenane, other Irish plays that better integrate harshness with the humor. It's hard to say if this is a flaw of David Henderson's direction or just Jones' script, but scenes dealing with the tragedy feel less like a stark realization of the characters' reality than another play altogether.
Still, the actors do a fine job with the material, and again, their energy is infectious. There's enough to like in their rapid-fire work and the many characters they create to recommend Stones in His Pockets, even when the storyline threatens to drown in blarney.
This article appeared in print with the headline "New futures and no futures."