The trio made of director Dayna Tekatch and actors Christian Murray and Rhys Bevan-John return to Neptune with Stones in His Pockets.
The three teamed up last year for the acclaimed The 39 Steps. Unfortunately, despite an entertaining show, lightning did not strike twice with this production.
Stones in His Pockets, which opened on Friday, Oct. 21, runs until Nov. 8. It tells the tale of a small Irish town invaded by an American film crew. The production and the townsfolk are both turned upside down when a wannabe actor kills himself by putting stones in his pockets and jumping into the water after being rebuffed by an actress.
Similar to The 39 Steps, Bevan-John and Murray play multiple characters, crossing lines of gender, age, and nationality. Each plays a main character along with supporting roles: Bevan-John plays Jake Quinn, Murray plays Charlie Conlon. Murray’s principal role is acted with skill, but into the second act, his exhaustion from switching between characters became apparent.
The performances themselves are generally skillful, and the variation between postures, voice, and style of movement is incredibly diverse. That being said, Stones in His Pockets is a product of the mid-nineties, and some of the comedy does not age well at all.
Both actors’ depictions of women are deeply problematic. Bevan-John’s Ashlin – the sycophant production assistant – is coded on stage by the actor exaggerating his hips and speaking with his wrists.
Similarly, Murray’s glamorous movie star Caroline Giovanni is characterized by exaggerated movements and flourishes.
It’s a shame that so much of the humour of the show is derived from homophobia and misogyny. Allegedly, on the preview nights, there were multiple walk-outs. I wasn’t that offended, but was still uncomfortable and cringing in my seat.
The insensitivity is unfortunate, because the plot itself is touching. It’s depiction of what a film crew does to a small town is very accurate.
The play has a really lovely message that there is no American dream, that you have to make your own way, but it’s muddled down by its delivery, despite an attractive stage, some creative blocking, and clearly committed performances.
The set was also hit and miss. Designed by Jennifer Goodman, it is a conventional proscenium (the part of the theatre stage in front of the curtain) made of imitation stone. The texture and details of the stones are impressive, from the grit of the individual stones to the moss growing in their cracks. The painted backdrop is so bright and photorealistic one could easily mistake it for a backlit projection.
An unfortunate consequence of the artificial stones is their strength and sound. They don’t sound like rocks when stepped on, and worse yet, would shake when the actors stepped on them.
I went into Stones in His Pockets thinking I wouldn’t like it, but despite it’s shortcomings, I am not entirely disappointed. The title of the play is the title of a film the characters pitch; it is derided as “doesn’t say much, a bit nondescript, and not very catchy,” which may very well lead potential audiences elsewhere.
At least they’re self-aware.