BWW Reviews: STONES IN HIS POCKETS at Center Stage
Sometimes it takes a village, but here, it just takes two very talented actors to bring a village to life. Playwright Marie Jones, director Derek Goldman, and actors Clinton Brandhagen and Todd Lawson take an old story and make it new by presenting it as a two-man play. The results are a thoroughly entertaining acting tour-de-force.
Taking place somewhere in County Kerry, the setting is all Celtic bucolic with verdant grass, crumbling stone walls and pubs where everybody knows your name. From across the pond, Hollywood has decided it needs authenticity and sends a film crew to capture the real Ireland for a movie where pitchfork-wielding peasants rise up against the ruling class.Charlie Conlon (Clinton Brandhagen) and Jake Quinn (Todd Lawson) play extras in this movie within a play. They are charming and ironic observers of this mixture of the old and the new, the quixotic and the neurotic.
The humorous interactions between locals and interlopers are made even more entertaining by the fact that Brandhagen and Lawson portray all of them. With a mere shift of expression and stance and limited props, they transform in and out of characters young and old, male and female, Irish and American. They don't miss a beat as they turn from one into another and present a parade of eccentrics, cranks, divas, and dreamers. My theater companion, who is first generation Irish, noted the accents are Irish-lite rather than a real brogue which is a good thing for American ears. She was especially impressed with the energetic and correct Irish step-dance Brandhagen and Lawson power through as the irrationally happy peasant population rejoices in the movie's conclusion.
The show is never funnier than in the scenes of camera takes which are continually redone since the authentic Irish extras are not, well, authentic enough. With music swelling in the background, Charlie and Jake muster up all the pathos of the dispossessed that Hollywood requires in satisfying its delusions of the world outside its camera lens. Reality is subverted to stereotype. And the real stereotypes turn out to be more complex and entertaining than their movie counterparts.
The time of this play is listed as present day, but it seems to reside in the 1990's. The upheavals of the North are not its subject. The story is provincial and nonpolitical, though serious social issues wend their way into the plot. The tone is mostly light, but the play casts some shadows as it deals with the destruction of dreams: the dreams of those who stay home and those who leave and come back, the dreams of making it major, making it minor or just making it at all, the dreams of those born on an island that is both barren and beautiful.
The second half of the play takes a serious turn with only partial success. The author seems to feel the necessity of adding some true Irish tragedy to the brew. As a narrative it feels forced, but the presentation remains flawless. In a blink of an eye, both Brandhagen and Lawson alter from joy to despair with absolute conviction. This also happens to capture the essence of the witty, melancholy and ultimately optimistic Irish spirit we know and love.
STONES IN HIS POCKETS plays now through February 23 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Tickets are available through the box office 410-332-0033 or at www.centerstage.org.