Extra, Extra: Dodds Delzell and Steven Abbott find no fit in 'Stones in His Pockets.'
'Stones' shows Hollywood from the extras' side of the set
'I'll have the lemon meringue pie, please."
With this conspicuously innocuous request, Belfast-born playwright Marie Jones kicks off her fast, funny and not-so-innocuous hit play Stones in His Pockets. In a smart new co-production by Actors Theatre and the Santa Rosa Players, directed by Sheri Lee Miller, every line of conversation reverberates with unspoken meaning, while desires and the pain of not having them realized, even when they dangle right before the eyes, lie in waiting behind a trailer door or sit in the sun on a lunch counter like a forbidden slice of lemon meringue pie.
A massive Hollywood production company has descended upon a tiny Irish village in County Kerry to film a lavish historical epic, allowing hundreds of local folks to take jobs as extras. To the residents, the arrival of Hollywood (to the same location where John Wayne's The Quiet Man was filmed some fifty years before) represents several weeks' work and decent money, but it also provides a bittersweet acceleration of the hopes and aspirations of several local dreamers, primarily the town's resident would-be actor Jake Quinn (Dodds Delzell) and the recently bankrupt video-store owner Charlie Conlon (Steven Abbott), who meet as extras on the sprawling set of this Hollywood epic titled The Quiet Valley.
As is fitting for a play about unrealized dreams, nearly everything in Stones in His Pockets is imagined, conjured up onstage by the pantomime or shape-shifting of Abbott and Delzell, who frequently hop from playing Charlie and Jake to taking on several additional roles as the story flows along through a tangled knot of gently interweaving plots. Much of the show's considerable entertainment value comes in watching this dynamic duo step in and out of all those characters, embodying everyone from a condescending English movie director to a pair of seasoned assistant directors to a brutish Scottish security man to a Julia Roberts-like superstar to an ancient codger whose only lingering achievement is his status as the last surviving extra from the days of The Quiet Man. With no more than a change of voice and a shift of body language, the actors bounce distinctly from character to character, unaided by costume changes.
Charlie Conlon is a hopeless schemer with even less charm than he thinks he has. Charlie has written a movie script he believes in, but, to his mounting frustration, he cannot get anyone with influence to take a look at it. He can't even finagle that extra piece of pie, which comes to represent all the other things that have been denied him throughout his life.
The star-struck Jake Quinn, having recently returned from America where his acting ambitions were soundly thwarted, can barely believe his good fortune when the movie's gorgeous star apparently takes an interest and invites him to her hotel room for a bit of help on her Irish accent. In the end, Jake's already wounded dignity is further affronted, leading to a kind of consciousness-raising that spreads from one put-upon extra to the other. A concurrent plot line follows the effect a local suicide has on the strained relationship between the increasingly defiant locals and the exasperated movie people.
The set by Argo Thompson is stunningly simple: nothing more than a couple of chairs and a low, stone wall running across the otherwise bare stage. The wall is significant (and I beg Thompson and Miller's forgiveness if I am reading too much into this), as it represents the division that seems to stand between those whose dreams are always being dashed to pieces and those whose dreams have come true with such ease they barely appreciate their own fortune.
Stones is not about Hollywood and the life of the movie-set extra any more than it is about Ireland or County Kerry; rather, it employs the Irish and Hollywood as metaphors in a probing, frequently funny examination of the way that our dreams can simultaneously help and hurt us. The ingenious script and staging are reason enough to buy a ticket, but this being a story of underappreciated actors, it is fitting to point out, that the two main reasons to see Stones in His Pockets are Delzell and Abbott, whose tour-de-force performances are sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking and never short of dazzling.
'Stones in His Pockets' runs through May 29 at the Sixth Street Playhouse. Friday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. Special $10 matinee on Saturday, May 14, at 2pm. 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $15-$22. 707.523.4185.
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From the May 11-17, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.