STONES IN HIS POCKETS by Marie Jones, directed by Ian McElhinney, with Seán Campion and Conleth Hill. Presented by Mirvish Productions at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge). Opens Tuesday (January 9) and runs to February 25, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm. $35-$52. 872-1212. Rating: NNNNN
if, when you hear the name
Mirvish, you think big musicals -- Les
Miz, The Lion King, Mamma Mia! -- you'll be surprised by the producers' latest show.Marie Jones's Stones In His Pockets is a two-hander. It began life in a Belfast theatre, went on to the 1999 Edinburgh Festival and became a hit in London's West End.
It's the serio-comic tale of an American film company that settles into a small village in County Kerry to film an "authentic" Irish story.
The roster of characters includes snooty American film stars, ass-kissing third assistant directors and local extras who alternate between feeling belittled and seeing the shoot as a way to make their fortunes. It's State And Main Goes To Ireland, except that all 15 characters are played by two actors.
"It's tremendously satisfying to work in a show without sets and costumes," says Seán Campion on the phone from Dublin, sounding a little tired after a welcome-home party. He and co-star Conleth Hill, the show's original cast, have just left the London production and are preparing to conquer North America.
"It's about acting, writing, directing and nothing else. Between us we play all 15 of the characters, and there's something inherently theatrical about that. It's the hardest work we've ever done," he laughs, "creating all these characters for two hours without a break."
They've worked together in several other productions, most recently in a version of Waiting For Godot while on a break from Stones. Though Campion's not been to Canada, he has a Canadian theatrical credit: he played the gay central character in Brad Fraser's Poor Super Man in Dublin.
Before the initial run of Stones, the actors had only three weeks' rehearsal to capture the play's quick filmic shifts and discover how to change characters without confusing the audience.
"It's simple, really," notes Campion, who takes the show to Broadway after Toronto.
"One of us walks behind the other and comes out another person, or we turn on our heels as we're about to exit and become someone else. What was more important was finding a vocal range and physical mannerisms for each character. We had to find the truth in them, not turn the people into cliches or grotesques."
While Jones's script deals with the romanticism that's infused Hollywood works about Ireland since John Ford's 1952 film The Quiet Man -- "It showed the Irish loving their music and drink and all happy as Larry" -- it also speaks about the ideas of ordinary people about a country they don't know.
"That's why Stones is being produced in eight or 10 countries, including Sweden and Iceland.
There's a vein in it that everyone understands, whether they have a link to Ireland or not."