“And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” Even in the face of death, the Irish find humor in all things; it’s one of their many charms.
The land of the Emerald Isle is a much romanticized location, one where, with a bit of luck love, fortunes are found. It’s a place where legends of leprechauns are rampant and the Jameson whiskey flows like water falls—at least to us Americans who even have a holiday celebrating St. Patrick. TheatreNOW lifts a glass to the Celtic spirit with their staging of Maria Jones’s “Stones in His Pockets” right in time for March 17.
This bleakly hilarious slice-of-life story tells the tale of people from the small town of Kerry, who are once again invaded by a big Hollywood production and trying to scrape their piece of the fame pie. Tensions rise as a tragic death in the tightly knitted community shakes the locals and starts a soul-searching journey through lost dreams and newfound hopes between fast friends Jake Quinn (Jacob Keohane) and Charlie Conlon (Braxton Lathan Williams). The two slouches are happy to be working in the movie biz, even if just as extras.
Opening last weekend and running through March 31, the play perfectly glamorizes the Irish yet simultaneously strips down their bravado nature. Though the production features only two actors, the combined talents of both Jacob Keohane and Braxton Lathan Williams creates a cavalcade of distinct townspeople. Keohane and Williams fill the stage and never allow the show’s quick, high-paced energy to drop even a decimal. The production, under the direction of Skip Maloney, will have audiences laughing, crying and most importantly raising their glasses to a good time sure to be had by all.
Audiences will be met with soothing sounds of Irish folk songs when entering the theater. Though the stage is rather bare, minus a medium-sized stone Celtic cross and a few chairs, which are moved about, not much else is on display. The play is built of the talents of its actors who pantomime numerus spots and activities across the small town. Through their honesty on stage, the audience is transported to each and every location from mere tables.
The skilled partnership between Keohane and Williams is amazing; they are one hell of a powerhouse. They seamlessly morph from one character to another, with palpable chemistry. The marathon of a show starts with Braxton Lathan Williams as Charlie Conlon standing center stage and chatting up craft services for a double-helping of dessert. While it may be a slingshot way to jump into the world, it certainly endears audiences to Charlie quickly. His warm smile makes Charlie a disarming personality, with a happy-go-lucky attitude that allows him to find the best of any situation. He is hoping to get his newly finished screenplay in the right hands. Charlie’s someone you’d wanna your friend, so just imagine when he reveals the sad truth of where his carefree mindset comes from … it is heartbreaking but honest. Williams’ coke-loving, wannabe-writer, best-friend role is multilayered, and shows how he’s doing his best to just hold on.
With the simple addition of a pink and white scarf, Williams turns into the American-sweetheart-of-a-leading-lady, Caroline Giovanni, and is priceless. He changes his entire physique to become the adorable actress who is oh-so-used to getting what she wants. While he laughs with it, he finds moments to show a shallow nature of Giovanni.
As well Williams embodies Clem, the foul-mouthed director of the film-with-in-a-play and always brings a laugh. His repartee with Jake is great, and he bashes the title of the play in a meta way (which I won’t give away here but it ties to the plot in a fun happy ending).
It is Keohane’s Jake who is the story’s through-line character. He anchors and drives the show passionately and perfectly. His Jake feels so lived in and worn out, as he tries everyday to be the leading man that others see in him. The humor, heartbreak, and humanity that Keohane puts on display on stage are truly palpable at every emotional turn.
His Mickey Riordan—the oldest person in town, and most importantly the last surviving member of the cast of John Wayne’s “A Quiet Man”—is a man riding on his one-and-only, boastfully shouted-upon claim to fame. With nothing more than an added cap to his head and a hunch to his back, Keohane changes characters so quickly only hummingbirds and lighting strikes could catch him. He scores laughs with every appearance, and he jumps into the prim, proper, and pain-in-the-ass Aisling, a female production assistant who swings her ego with a cut of the eyes. She’s a corky break for Keohane, who has to play a lot of heavy emotions. The actor reaches into the depth of painful wants to bring out Sean Harkin, a local lad with dreams of getting out of town. It’s all great work. Also he scores points on a solid accent that holds well as he manages to Rolodex through his list of roles.
These two actors pull off quote a show, from start to finish; the only time they leave the stage is when the acts end. They never seem tired or out of breath, and they deserve to have full houses to witness the undertaking of this gauntlet. Though the play writes itself until it finds something resembling a happy ending, it will leave audiences cheering.
As usual the night of theatre is paired with a top-notch meal by Chef Denise Gordon. The smoked salmon cheese deep dip with pretzel bites starts off the meal as an enjoyable appetizer, followed by the three entrées. Irish shrimp and grits are delicious, with shrimp sauteéd to perfection. It is my favorite of the three. The corned beef meatball with roasted cabbage is really good mixed with whiskey horseradish mustard. Lastly, the lentil and mushroom Shepherd’s Pie will have all the mushroom lovers happily sated; as for me, well, not the biggest fungi fan.
“Stones in His Pockets” is a fun romp, and eases a heavy story onto the audience with zany characters and interesting circumstances. Paired with a hearty meal and a drink or two, it’s worth a toast to two outstanding actors putting on one hell of a darkly fun show.