BWW Reviews: STONE IN HIS POCKETS at Center Stage - Sip Your Guinness and Enjoy!
It's been almost exactly two years since Center Stage produced the Irish play A SKULL IN CONNEMARA by Martin McDonagh. They were overdue for another one.
Thankfully, Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah has chosen STONES IN HIS POCKETS by Irish playwright Marie Jones (from Belfast) to be the theater's initial play for 2014. STONES has a good pedigree. In London, it received the Laurence Olivier Award, the Evening Standard Award, and three Tony Award nominations, including Best Play in 2001. (I noticed that Euan Morton played the role of Charlie in a revival Off-Broadway. He must have been incredible.)
Let me admit that I just love Ireland and Irish theater. My interest started with the film BARRY LYNDON and after I saw RYAN'S DAUGHTER I knew I had to visit. I've been to the Emerald Isle on two occasions and highly recommend a visit.
The play concerns an American film company coming to County Kerry and concerns the the plight of "authentic" Irish locals to be "extras" in the film. My family, thanks to a winning bid during the WBAL Radio Auction for Center Stage, actually served as extras in the movie "Sleepless in Seattle". We were told be bring three changes of winter clothing to Lexington Market from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. in the middle of the summer. My wife, children, and I were dubbed "The Fam" and our work took place at Faidley's Seafood in the market. Unfortunately, we made the cutting room floor but it was a lot of fun.
STONES IN HIS POCKETS may remind many of the play IRMA VEP (at Center Stage in 1991 starring Wil Love) where two characters play a myriad of roles. Here, Director Derek Goldman has assembled an astonishing cast of two: there's Todd Lawson making his Center Stage debut initially as local Jake and Clinton Brandhagen also making his Center Stage debut (and a long-time regular of the Everyman Theatre Resident Theatre Company) as Charlie. Their thick authentic accents are helped by Dialect coach, Leigh Wilson Smiley. This is especially evident in the way the actors pronounce the word "filllllllm".
One must attribute the success of this play to the clever work of Director Derek Goldman and the inventive and superb work by both actors. Their work is simply astonishing. Goldman by the way is now directing THE DRESSER soon coming to the Everyman Theatre.
Jake and Charlie are looking forward to their pay of "40-quid-a-day" (the play obviously takes place before the Euro appeared) and the free food. Charlie hopes to share his screenplay with anyone from the film crew and Jake (who just returned from an attempt at success in New York) is more of a lady's man.
They change characters by the removal of their hats, their stature, their accents, and they both get the opportunity to play females. Lawson plays stage manager Ashling who at the beginning of Act II tells the extras (and the audience ) to settle down...."Let's all settle please" she says in a very high pitched voice.
Brandigan has so much fun playing the leading lady "Caroline Giovanni" who seduces Jake at a pub and takes him back to her hotel to help with her accent.
There's "Old Mickey" (Lawson) who asserts he can't be fired since he is the last surviving extra from THE QUIET MAN (a John Wayner classic filmed in Ireland).
Brandhagen also plays the film's Director who is faced with dealing with a death of one of the extras. How the extras deal with this situation is one of the highlights of the show.
The other is the wake where both Brandhagen and Lawson dance (with imaginary partners to wonderful Irish music). Kudos to choreographer Emma Crane Jester for the great step dancing and Andre Pluess (Sound Designer) for the great Irish music.
What certainly sets this play apart is the clever use of projections by Jared Mezzocchi. There is an actual camera on a dolly which moves up and down the stage and is used for live videos of the actors. There is also the use of other projections placed on the rear of the set. It works wonderfully.
Set Designer Misha Kachman adds all the Irish stone necessary to remind one of the location. Ivania Stack does the costumes. There is even a small touch, a contraption to help take off one's boots. Jennifer Schriver is responsible for the affective lighting. Center Stage Production Dramaturg Catherine Maria Rodriguez has added great background information about Ireland in the program.
One criticism I have is that Center Stage does not use the photos of the current cast to advertise the show in a postcard but rather shows two actors who are not in the cast. I don't understand. Brandhagen and Lawson deserve better.
Ireland must be in. Check out U.S. ice skater Jason Brown's wonderful routine in the free skate during the Olympics. He skates to music from the Irish show "Riverdance".
So,one can grab a Guinness and sit and enjoy STONES IN HIS PICKETS. After the show, head to an Irish pub. There are four advertised in the progam.
The play runs until February 23, 2014. Call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.