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, October 21 and runs until November 8, is 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. Bevan-John’s characters are flawless executed. Murray’s principal role is acted with skill, but into the second act, his exhaustion from switching between them became apparent as the show continued.
The performances themselves are generally skillful — the variation between postures, voice use, 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 is deeply problematic. Bevan-John’s Ashlin, the sycophant production assistant is coded on stage by Bevan-John 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 regardless uncomfortable and cringing in my seat.
It’s unfortunate, because the plot itself is touching. It’s depiction of what a film crew does to a small town is very accurate. There’s a really lovely message that there is no American dream, that one has 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 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, when the actors step up and down the stones used as steps to a wall, they can be seen visibly shaking, not a usual quality of stone.
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 men pitch; it is derided in-show by a character 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.