Saturday, March 7, 2015

"Stones in his Pockets" at Performance Network Theatre

There are thirteen characters in Performance Network Theater's production of Stones in his Pockets, directed by Suzi Regan. Charlie Conton (Wayne David Parker) is an excitable extra--and aspiring screenwriter--in the Hollywood movie Quiet Valley, set in and featuring heavily a romanticized version of the Irish countryside. He strikes up a friendship with Jake Quinn (Andrew Huff), another extra who is smarting from a recent failure to reinvent himself in New York and grappling generally with life's broken promises. There's also Simon (Wayne David Parker holding a walkie talkie), the first assistant director who's just trying to get the movie finished on time, and Aisling (Andrew Huff in a headset, leopard-print glasses, and an irritated expression), a young woman paying her dues in the film industry. There's an aging extra Mickey Riordan (Andrew Huff in a newsboy cap), the movie star Caroline Giovanni (Wayne David Parker in a head scarf), and Sean Harkin, a disillusioned local kid who commits suicide halfway through the play (Andrew Huff in a grey knit hat). Maybe you get the idea?

The script, written by Belfast-based playwright Marie Jones, is about disappointment, a loss of purpose, the hard, important work of telling your own story, and the sometimes fatal consequence of losing hope. It's also very funny. For instance, when things get too real for Jake, Mr. Huff busts into the whiny, harried Aisling, grimacing into the lights and eye-rolling at the extras. Again, it's just Mr. Huff in glasses, but you can practically see the Starbucks in her hand. Contrast this comic transformation with Mr. Parker's turn as the well-meaning but tone-deaf (in both accent and sensibility) Caroline Giovanni: the gender-bending gets a few laughs as first, but Mr. Parker as a gorgeous and obliviously destructive starlet is ultimately convincing. All due respect to Mr. Parker, but it's not his stunning beauty doing the heavy lifting there.

As the novelty of the film business wears off for the town, so does the character-switching recede into the background of the play (this is the failure of the actors in the movie and the great success of the actors on stage). When the distractions have faded away, both the extras and the audience must face the central question of the work: if we are not our commercialized selves, and if we are not exactly who we used to be, what remains to define us? Charlie and Jake do not shy away from the problem; in the final scene, goofy absurdity and stark tragedy coalesce to deliver a satisfying takeaway about modern authenticity.

The show runs through April 5. Tickets available here.

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