By C. S. Gilbert
Like last season's runaway hit "39 Steps," Marie Jones' "Stones in His Pocket" is both an immense challenge and a potential tour de force for actors.
Theatre XP/Key West Summer Stage's production, which opens Tuesday night at the Red Barn, tosses the ball to David Black and Quincy Perkins, and they run with it, portraying more than a dozen distinct characters, including a couple of women.
Set "Whenever" in a "scenic spot near a small village in County Kerry, Ireland," the dark comedy centers around the filming of a formula, Hollywood film -- the plot is reminiscent of "Gone With the Wind" minus the Civil War and moved across the Atlantic. Black and Perkins -- who not incidentally directs the show and is also, with Bob Bowersox, producing partner of Summer Stage -- play the hell out of village local Jake Quinn and aspiring screenwriter Charlie Conlon, extras hired for the shoot, plus all the other villagers and production staff. Of the array of lesser characters, Black as the young addict Sean and as the aged Mickey and Perkins as the blind priest and as the film's female lead Caroline Giovanni, the director's spoiled, immature, not very talented 20-year-old daughter, are especially memorable.
A week before the July 16 opening, in their first complete dress/tech rehearsal, the play had already jelled -- an unexpected happening, frankly, and high praise indeed for both acting and direction. The black box set is perfect for the show and the actors utilize the spare costume and set pieces well. All that talent and skill are not, however, a surprise.
Black is long-established as one of Key West's most versatile actors -- among many, many achievements, he was one of the amazing stars of "The 39 Steps."
Perkins, a Conch introduced to theater growing up in Key West, went off to school, came back a few years ago and immediately established himself as a force to be reckoned with on and off local stages. With Brandon Beach, Amber McDonald Good, Erin McKenna, Carolyn Cooper and a few others, Perkins stands with a whole new generation of young Key West actors -- and boyoboy, they are very, very good. (He gets extra points because, at the time of the run-through, he was the brand new father of two-day old Sienna Rose.)
Hats off, too, to a new generation of stage managers: Julia Tetreault is still in high school, albeit the Governors School for the Arts in Virginia, and cut her managerial teeth on "Talk Radio" and "Seafarer" last summer. Coming up for the next show, "Burn This," is Jack McDonald, famously experienced technically backstage (he also serves as Summer Stage's master electrician) but still young.
Summer Stage of late has presented three plays in which the characters are Irish or Irish-American, starting with the thought-provoking "Seafarer" last summer, then the reading of Bowersox's deeply moving "Moment of Grace" on July 1 (running Nov. 5-23 at the Barn). "Stones in His Pocket," while often funny and on several occasions shockingly sad, lacks the philosophical punch to provoke a rousing discussion over adult beverages after the show. It's almost a truism that show business is sometimes a rotten business -- no debate there. That leaves the audience to chew over the relative guilt of sins of omission and to celebrate the wonder of hope -- not, on second thought, such terrible topics of serious conversation.
If there are weaknesses in this play, they must be placed at the feet of Jones, the playwright. The plot simply isn't as clear as it might be and occasional lines are puzzling. Perhaps the actors can, heroically, clarify things by opening night -- but they really shouldn't have to. These two, however, are probably up to the challenge: how far does one have to go from awe-inspiring to miraculous?
If the particular genre of theater known as Irish tragicomedy is your jigger of whisky, you'll not see it better done around here than next week at the Summer Stage.