One of the dangers in any two person play, especially on Broadway, is casting two actors who are able to fill up the stage. Two characters, twenty, or one hundred, it doesn't really matter. If the actors don't fill up the space, it's going to seem like a mighty empty playing area and the play will seem very long. I'm happy to report that none of that is the case with Stones In His Pockets, though it suffers from other, equally as serious problems.
Sean Campion and Conleth Hill really do an excellent job in the show. Each of them plays a variety of characters, stretching across every imaginable age range and sex. Each of the characters is very different from the others and, especially in Hill's case, almost seems physically unrecognizable from the actor. These two men are able to, flawlessly, populate the stage of the Golden Theatre and Marie Jones's script with all the colorful people you would expect to work on a movie set.
Jones's script tells the story of two men and their experiences working as extras on the set of a cheesy melodramtic romance movie that, at times, seemed all too familiar. One gets involved with the female star, the other wants to use the opportunity to get a script of his own developed. There is a lot of comedy along the way, as one might expect, and a number of scenes from the movie that are as hilarious as they horrifying. Seeing Hill and Campion react as extras in scenes where they must imagine peoples' hands are bouncing horses or when they must dance an enthusiastic Irish jig are almost priceless moments, and director Ian McElhinney handles them well.
The fundamental flaw with the play, though, occurs at the end of the first act when the show takes an inexplicable dramatic turn that almost completely changes the play from comedy to tragedy. I'm not saying a device like that can't work, but it was handled very poorly here. I won't ruin the "surprise," but one would hope a playwright would consider the implications of having a major, play-affecting change happen to a very, very minor character. If such a change happens to a character the audience really knows, understands, and care about, it can be devastating in the grandest theatrical tradition. But when, as in Stones in His Pockets, it is thrown in with too little thought given to its implications, the results are disastrous.
The second act of Stones in His Pockets is far weaker than the first act, and is at times, almost unwatchable. This ends up dragging down what could have been a very funny and possibly even moving play about Ireland, how celebrity subverts the simple life, and about the meaning of friends and family. But Jones tries so hard to achieve these topics the easy way that they end up lost in the shuffle.
When Stones in His Pockets is on, it's very on, with Conleth Hill and Sean Campion giving hilarious, adept performances. But strong performers are only capable of doing so much when problems are built into the very structure of the show in which they are appearing. Campion and Hill give it their all, and are as successful as anyone could be expected to be. But it's not enough. Jones needed to trust the principles of theatre more for Stones in His Pockets to live up to its full potential.
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