Backstage with ‘Stones in His Pockets’

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(Host) A new show at the Weston playhouse is set in rural Ireland. “Stones in His Pockets” tells the story of a faltering farm community invaded by the Hollywood film industry.

VPR’s Susan Keese went backstage for a preview.

(Keese) The bare-bones set for this production includes a dreamy backdrop painting of the hills of County Kerry. The two main characters, Jake and Charlie, are out-of work Irishmen. They’ve been hired as extras in a Hollywood movie that’s the biggest thing happening in this struggling rural town.

They meet at lunch on the set, where Jake has just watched Charlie try to finagle a second helping of dessert.

(Charlie) “The Spanish Inquisition to get a bloody pudding!”
(Jake) “They’ve gotten wise to the extras. The first few days ones were bringing their families down and feeding them too…..”

(Keese) Obie winning actor Christopher Donohue plays Charlie, a wisecracking drifter. Charlie’s also a movie buff. He used to own a video store that was driven out of business when a big chain moved in. He’s even written a screenplay. He’s hoping for a chance to show it to the bigwigs on the set.

Charlie’s new friend Jake is the son of a local dairy farmer who’s sold off his land. Jake has just returned from America, where instead of getting rich, he got homesick. But back in County Kerry, there’s no work. So Jake is also forced to pin his hopes on the Hollywood dream industry.

New York actor David Bonano plays Jake. But he and Donohue also play other roles. In fact the two actors play 15 characters in all. Bonano:

(Bonano) “There’s very minimal props and costumes. And it happens very quickly and it happens just with a change of voice or a change of posture and we kind of morph into these characters back and forth and everybody kind of interacts together. But it’s just the two of us.”

(Keese) Among the characters is a pair of boys, Sean and Finn, viewed in flashbacks a decade earlier. Sean dreams of becoming an American film star. Finn plans to take over his father’s butcher shop.

(Sean) “You would rather be a butcher than a millionaire?”
(Finn) “I would have to ask me Da first.”
(Sean) “I don’t. My Da says us boys has to find something to do cos there will be no need for too many farmers…. Hey, but where will you get meat if there will be no cows soon?”
(Finn) “No Cows? Don’t talk daft. Where will they all go?”
(Sean) “I don’t know. America?”

(Keese) Donohue also plays Caroline Giovanni, the American film star. In this scene, she tries to seduce Jake to get help with her Irish accent.

(Caroline) “I haven’t seen you around.”
(Jake) “I was in that scene today. You know, where you talk to the peasants about asking your father to give the land back.”
(Caroline) “I didn’t notice anything, I was too uptight about my accent. Was it all right?”
(Jake) “You’d think you were born here.”
(Caroline) “Ha ha.”
(Jake) “I would love to get into the movies proper.”
(Caroline) “Oh you have a great face.”

(Keese) The play is essentially a comedy. But Bonano says it takes a serious turn in the second act.

(Bonano) “Somebody dies and it shakes everybody up immensely and leaves Jake and Charlie wondering what they could have done differently. And ultimately [it] changes their lives and what they choose to do with their future.”

(Keese) ‘Stones in his Pockets’ was written by Marie Jones, an Irish playwright. Jones has also worked as a Hollywood actress. But Malcolm Ewen, who directs the Weston performance, says Jones writes from an Irish point of view.

(Ewen) “A point of view of a person who’s afraid that their culture’s being trampled upon, or being remade by images that Hollywood projects of that culture.”

(Keese) Ewen says that perspective should hit home in Vermont, whose own changing rural culture is also prone to romantic fantasies.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Susan Keese.

‘Stones in his Pockets’ runs through September 3 at the Weston Playhouse.

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