Two actors, many roles in `Stones'

Nelson and Stebbins perform valiantly, taking on 15 parts in Rep Stage production


Howard Live

September 29, 2006|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The set depicts a beautiful vista in County Kerry, with an old stone fence and a lush, emerald green hill.

Look closer - there are also a movie camera and a rack of costumes. Hollywood has come to an Irish village.

Marie Jones' play Stones in His Pockets, which is being performed at Rep Stage at Howard Community College through Oct. 8, shows the uneasy relations between the film's cast and crew, and the villagers who have been hired as extras.

Two actors, Bruce Nelson and Michael Stebbins, portray 15 roles, Hollywood and Irish, male and female.

The film people, except for the leading lady, have vaguely identified off-camera jobs - assistant director, maybe, or unit manager. They are busy, impersonal and controlling.

The Irish characters are all male and all troubled. Charlie Conlin (Nelson), once a modest shopkeeper, was put out of business by a chain. He is a drifter now but determined not to let life get him down.

Jake Quinn (Stebbins), who tried his luck in America, could not make enough money there to get married and support a family. Back home in Ireland, he is lost and bitter.

Working on the film gives both men a desire to get into the movies. Charlie has written a script; Jake thinks he could be an actor.

Jake hits on the leading lady, Caroline Giovanni (Nelson).

To his surprise, she invites him to her hotel and later to her trailer. Romance is on his mind - maybe even the chance of a career - but she just wants him to read her lines aloud so she can imitate his dialect.

Several other stories are threaded through the action. Sean Harkin (Stebbins) expected to come into his father's prosperous farm, but changing economic conditions have left him with no future.

Addicted to drugs now, he has become a local nuisance. While under the influence, he tries to chat with Caroline in the village pub and is thrown out by her bodyguard (Nelson).

Mickey (Stebbins) is an old man with a special distinction.

In 1952, another film crew had come to the village. They were shooting The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. As the last living extra from that film, Mickey lords over the current extras with the knowing air of a professional.

The suicide of one of the villagers leaves all the local people stunned. Everyone knew him; many were related to him. His death motivates the rest of the action.

The villagers realize they are prostituting themselves by helping to tell a story about an Ireland that does not exist.

Resentful of the outsiders who have taken over their village and lands, who look on them as unskilled labor and who consider the suicide a mere distraction, the extras turn rebellious.

To the film crew, the situation is a serious production problem: Will the shooting be completed on schedule?

With 15 roles being played by two actors, the script is full of rapid alterations between characters. It is confusing, especially at first. Accepting it requires a lot of indulgence from the audience, especially when a scruffy, bearded actor is portraying a movie queen.

It is hard to say why the dramatist chose to tell her story that way, but she certainly provides an opportunity for virtuoso acting. Nelson and Stebbins perform valiantly, creating multiple characterizations and deftly making split-second changes from one to the other.

In her meticulous staging, Lee Mikeska Gardner does everything possible to help the actors and differentiate among the characters. Underscoring the prominent part movies play in the action, she begins and ends the show with clever filmed sequences.

Melanie Clark has provided simple, drab costumes for the two actors. The set designer deserves a word of praise, but no name is listed in the program.

Rep Stage bills Stones in His Pockets as a comedy. There are some laughs along the way, but it would be a mistake to see the show expecting a rollicking Irish romp. Marie Jones is taking a serious look at the Irish national character as it attempts to cope with today's economic conditions.

Rep Stage presents "Stones in His Pockets" through Oct. 8. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, with an additional performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Smith Theatre is at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Reservations: or 410-772-4900.

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