By Nicole Singley
Something special is gracing the stage at Spreckels’ intimate Condiotti Theatre, and it’s worth every penny of the price of admission. Playing now through September 10, Stones in His Pockets is, simply put, a master class in theater done right. And it’s no easy feat, at that.
As touching and insightful as it is laugh-out-loud funny, this whip-smart Irish comedy demands an awful lot of its only two actors, who are tasked with filling the shoes of no fewer than fifteen characters of varying ages, cultures, social classes, and genders. This would be challenging enough were it not compounded by zero costume changes, no props beyond two simple wooden crates, and a bare-bones stage with only a small stone wall and a projection screen to serve as its backdrop.
…”Stones in His Pockets” is simply a must-see masterpiece of local theater…
In less talented hands, this might add up to a confusing mess of mistaken identities and muddied transitions. But thanks to the careful stewardship of director Sheri Lee Miller, stellar casting and skillful staging combine to wring every last drop of humor and heart from playwright Marie Jones’s exacting script. And boy, is there a lot of it.
Irishmen Charlie and Jake (Jimmy Gagarin and Sam Coughlin, both phenomenal) become fast friends during their stint as extras on the set of a Hollywood epic that’s taken over their small rural town. But their starstruck excitement quickly fades. Behind the scenes is an industry that doesn’t care who it hurts, dehumanizes, or exploits in the name of wealth and fame. The show must go on, after all, at any cost – even when tragedy strikes. Jones manages to touch on some heavier subject matter and launch some incisive criticisms while never losing sight of the play’s comedic billing.
Gagarin and Coughlin are masters of their craft, moving seamlessly between characters (often multiple in the same scene) with apparent though undoubtedly hard-earned ease. Changes in posture, inflection, and dialect – some subtle, others dramatically overt – enable audiences to easily distinguish between characters. Each is impressively distinctive and fully formed. So much so, in fact, that on opening night, it was easy for this reviewer to forget there were only two actors on stage, so wholly convincing they were in each capacity. Hats off to dialect coach John Rustan for a job well done.
Among the colorful cast of side characters are glamorous leading lady Caroline Giovanni (Gagarin, whose affectations are hilarious), persnickety director’s assistant Aisling (Coughlin, also hilarious), spirited local elder Mickey Riordan (Coughlin), no-nonsense assistant director Simon (Gagarin), and a host of others who are all brought to life with sensitivity and self-possession. The actors’ chemistry shines through in every scene.
Though there’s little on stage, the stagecraft doesn’t disappoint. Gagarin and Coughlin are aided greatly by Chris Cota’s nuanced lighting and Jessica Johnson’s simple but effective sound design, subtly transforming the stage into a local pub with aptly-chosen background music and creating the illusion of a morning shower with perfectly timed sound effects. Allison Rae Baker deserves a mention here, too, for choreographing a charming Irish dance it’s clear the actors were having fun with on opening night.
Seldom does a production come along that checks all the boxes, but Miller has hit this one out of the park. Stones in His Pockets is simply a must-see masterpiece of local theater. It’s moving, it’s smart, and it’s wildly funny, to boot. Though the show must go on, this one’s only here for two short weeks. Don’t miss your chance to see Gagarin and Coughlin at the height of their powers.
Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.
Stones in His Pockets
|Written by||Marie Jones|
|Directed by||Sheri Lee Miller|
|Producing Company||Spreckels Performing Arts|
|Production Dates||Through Sept 10th|
|Production Address||Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
|Tickets||$14 - $34|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?||YES!|
- Graphics courtesy of Liverpool Theater.