Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Stones In His Pockets/Northlight Theatre

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Photo: Karl Hugh

Photo: Karl Hugh

“Stones In His Pockets,” which opened last night at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, wants to fight against a prevailing American perception of Ireland as one big happy, pastoral farm colored with spirited jigs and baked potatoes. But director J.R. Sullivan’s production (and so recently after he staged a near-perfect Irish play, Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer” at The Den Theatre) does just the opposite.

Marie Jones’ boring, cliché-reliant play, which ran on Broadway in 2001, is set in contemporary Ireland, but until Charlie (Brian Vaughn) made mention of his former job in a video store, I was certain the period was the early twentieth century. For the aesthetic, most apparently in David Kay Mickelsen’s rucksack costumes and Scott Davis’ lodge-like set, is remarkably akin to the 1992 blockbuster, “Far and Away.” Further, opening “Stones In His Pockets” two days before St. Patrick’s Day, our nation’s (and especially our city’s) favorite indulgent excuse to guzzle down copious amounts of booze in the name of Irish cultural appreciation, obscures the piece’s message even more.

Vaughn and David Ivers, co-artistic directors of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, respectively play Irish film-set extras Charlie and Jake—film-set-extra satire has since been perfected on television by British comedian Ricky Gervais—but they also portray every other character in the two-hour play. While the playwright’s intent may very well be to illuminate the many facets and personalities of Jake and Charlie, portrayed with rigid and choreographed playfulness by the duo, the effect is a stand-up routine of caricatures played to the basest degrees without a trace of humanity.

Whether it’s a senior-citizen extra who spins yarns and wobbles across the stage or a self-absorbed American starlet seemingly infatuated with purposeful cruelty, Jones’ characters are flatly drawn and plainly predictable.

The complicating mechanism of “Stones In His Pockets” is a local boy’s suicide, apparently because he was denied an appearance in the film by the bitchy-and-nothing-else starlet. The drama, always untrue, does not escalate in the wake of the young person’s suicide, and the shallowness with which that thread is treated here is wholly distressing. (Johnny Oleksinski)

At North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, (847)673-6300. Through April 14.

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