By Chris Harding
Special to the BIR
Running through March 16, halfway through St. Patrick’s month (as it is known by our neighbors in Southie), the Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents the popular two-man Irish comedy, “Stones in His Pocket.” Savin Hill’s Phil Tayler shares the task of portraying 15 different characters with Daniel Berger-Jones in this piquant, but hardly light-hearted satire about two lads hired as extras when a Hollywood crew takes over a small village in County Kerry.
Tayler and Berger-Jones are the two “background bogmen,” who in real life “have nothing and are going nowhere,” and are ironically cast as “dispossessed peasants,” but only in the way American moviegoers expect to see them. Each actor also portrays other extras, townspeople, the film’s star, director, and crew members. Berger-Jones as “cheerful” Charlie Conlon, the more optimistic of the duo, appears, for example, as the film’s sexy star Caroline Giovanni and the Scottish bouncer Jock Campbell. Tayler, as the more moody and hot-tempered Jake Quinn, takes, among other roles, Mickey, the oldest surviving extra from “The Quiet Man,” and Aisling, the bossy third assistant director.
“Stones” can be staged with elaborate projections, but Director Courtney O’Connor, an adjunct professor from Emerson College, wisely keeps the focus on the mercurial performers. Audiences get a mental workout keeping track of who’s playing whom.
Belfast playwright Marie Jones expressed surprise in 2001 when her work won the UK’s top honor, the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. Though there are chuckles galore throughout the show, her subplot about a young man who commits suicide mid-production by drowning himself with the titular “Stones in His Pocket” generates nagging conscience twinges.
Written before the Irish film industry really started booming, “Stones” revolves around a fictitious“fil-um” called “The Quiet Valley,” (a title that harkens back to “The Quiet Man” and “How Green Was My Valley”). Its clichéd plot traces the love between Maeve and Rory and features the heroine arriving on horseback during “the big turf-cutting scene.”
In the play, the extra characters get the stage time of a star, while the movie star characters get the stage time of an extra. Jones’ condescending foreigners idealize and sentimentalize the Irish people, while the clueless townsfolk idealize and glamorize the Tinseltown types. Irish-Americans will particularly enjoy the way the Brits and Americans scold the locals for not acting properly Irish enough. However, true to life, by the end of the show none of the characters seems to have wised up.
Though set designer Matthew Whiton plunks a costume rack on his simple set and flanks it with two columns of various styles of hats on pegs, the two actors make no significant costume changes during their instant transitions between characters. They just duck behind each other, drop their suspenders or turn their scally caps around.
Tayler’s hair may be tinted an unconvincing shade of red, but there’s nothing unconvincing about his quickly shuffled accents. Berger-Jones is equally spot-on. Kudos, therefore, to their internationally known dialect coach, Nina Zendejas.
Tayler’s next gig at the Lyric will be as one of the three sailors on 24-hour leave in the revival of the 1944 musical On the Town. Keep up with him at philtayler.com.