November 26, 2014

‘Stones’ — Smooth and polished at Yale

Fred Arsenault and Euan Morton in Stones in His Pockets. Photo by Joan Marcus

Fred Arsenault and Euan Morton in Stones in His Pockets. Photo by Joan MarcusFred Arsenault and Euan Morton in Stones in His Pockets. Photo by Joan MarcusWhen Hollywood travels to County Kerry, Ireland, two very different kinds of people come together head on. Irish movie extras are star-struck and Hollywood stars love the Irish countryside. Here, the ugly American is the movie industry that is so focused on creating an illusion (a movie) that it doesn’t realize how much damage it is actually doing to its onsite location. 

Directed with strategic balance of simplicity and sensitivity by Evan Yionoulis, two sensational actors take on the roles of 14 characters. Fred Arsenault (Jake) and Euan Morton  (Charlie) have all the magic one expects to find in Irishmen who have lyrical accents, uncanny charm, and monumental talent.  As movie extras, these two men will have you smiling throughout the entire show. Jake is the more down-to-earth young man. He has been to New York on his quest for success and returned home to Ireland a failure.

Arsenault also plays the object of the attentions of the famous movie star, the sensuous Caroline Giovanni. This star wants Jake to woo her in order to gain a more realistic Irish accent. However, Jake doesn’t fancy being taken advantage of any more than the playwright fancies movie makers taking over rural Ireland. Arsenault not only plays many male characters well, but he steps into a female assistant role with a higher pitched voice and a flirty walk. He also plays the rejected young man who cannot get a day’s work as an extra in the movie. He’s into drugs and down on his luck, but he really wants a chance, even a small one. Instead Miss Giovanni humiliates him in front of his people. That’s when he drowns  himself with a pocket full of stones to weigh  him down.  

Euan Morton as Charlie still holds on to a dream. He walks with an original screen play in his back pocket hoping to become a great movie success story. He too plays many roles, including that Miss Giovanni. However, as Charlie, he is a solid rock performer. He clings to an Irish penchant for optimism, even as opportunities become more and more unlikely. 

Some of the most memorable moments in this production are when Jake declares himself an unpublished poet and recites a poem by Seamus Heaney to impress Miss Giovanni. Unfortunately for Jake, she knows the poem. 

The other moment is as wonderful as it is hilarious. It happens when the two actors do an Irish step dance every bit as dramatically as a scene from “Lord of the Dance.”  The audience just eats it up. 

Nikki DelHomme’s costumes are cleverly designed for quick split second onstage costume changes. These two actors don a hat for one character, jackets for another and trousers and shoes for others. The costumes deliver the necessary look for each character. 

What really makes this production unlike any other is that Edward T. Morris’ scenic and projection design that works like a lucky charm. The stage is half rolling Irish green lawn, and the other half is a huge movie screen. At times, the background on the screen lends itself to perfectly to the action and its effectiveness is quite striking. Solomon Weisbard’s lightning and Matt Otto’s sound design add the finishing touches to a truly outstanding production. It plays through Feb. 16 at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, at York, New Haven. 

Box office:  203-432-1234

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT.  She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com