Last week, across the street from Father Michael Doyle's famed Sacred Heart Church in Camden, New Jersey, the audience was swept away to a tiny village in County Kerry, Ireland. Inside the intimate Waterfront South Theatre, two characters desperately clutch their belief in the American Dream as Marie Jones’s unique and award-winning play, Stones in His Pockets, unwinds an Irish tale within a story of Hollywood coming to town to shoot a movie.
Charlie (Steve Carpenter) and Jake (Brian McManus) are down-on-their-luck friends playing extras in this film on location, but the entire cast of characters involved include the vacuous star Caroline Giovanni; Mickey, whose last film appearance was as an extra in the 1952 John Wayne romance The Quiet Man; and various cast, crew, and village people. Carpenter and McManus play all of these characters with aplomb and energy, expertly bringing forth the soul-shattering clash of the American-imported personal fantasy of "making it big" with the traditions and truths of the auld sod.
A magical opening
Sometimes opening nights are a bit shaky, but this one was magic, with two talented actors playing off one another with brilliant rapport. After my ears adjusted to the brogue accents in the beginning, the words were easily heard and the pacing was dynamic as the two jumped in and out of the dazzling array of characters they had to conjure, sometimes switching personalities in mid-sentence. They carried the audience with them, metamorphosing from demanding and imperious film people insisting that the Irish extras conform to American ideals of Irishness (even the local cows aren’t Irish enough) one moment and dissolving into angry Irishmen defending their way of life the next.
Steve Carpenter, a veteran of Hedgerow Theatre and a Curio Theatre company member, is funny and believable playing the sexy Caroline (in men’s clothes) and the arrogant film director Clem. Later in act 2, he brings forth a grieving father with a subtle and delicate warmth.
Brian McManus, an actor who has worked with the Irish Heritage Theatre and in San Francisco’s Subterranean Shakespeare group, brought the house down with his comic portrayal of old Mickey Riordan (the angry extra from The Quiet Man), the frustrated and desperate Sean Harkin, and his delicious assistant director, Aisling.
Philadelphia-based director and actor Josh McLucas, founder of [redacted] Theater Company and a graduate of the British American Drama Academy, did a careful study of how this production should flow, and his expert attention shows. Two-actor plays are tough to stage and keep the interest high (especially in our sound-bite world), but the automatic performance relationship can be compelling, and when more than two characters are involved, the demands are absolutely immense.
The only problems with this tragicomedy remain with the lighting, set, and music. Samantha Smith, wearing three hats in this production as stage manager, light and sound technician, and production manager, really needed a lighting designer to help accentuate the drama. More creative illumination to help the actors in their transitions would have been effective, especially when the backdrop was almost all white. A nice painting of some rolling green hills with soft brown earthen roads could have communicated the reason the American filmmakers wanted to shoot on the Emerald Isle in the first place. There also should have been a better use of music during the show—the Clancy Brothers are great, but some film soundtrack-style musical effects would really have accentuated some scenes.
But Stones in His Pockets, concluding a season of two-handers, is a must-see, and Steve Carpenter and Brian McManus continue the proud tradition of Camden’s remarkable theater company—in a gem of a venue that locals should discover if they haven’t already.
What, When, Where
Stones in His Pockets. By Marie Jones. Directed by Josh McLucas. The South Camden Theatre Company. Through November 23, 2019, at The Waterfront South Theatre, 400 Jasper Street
Michael Doyle Lane, Camden, NJ. (866) 811-4111 or southcamdentheatre.org.
The Waterfront South Theatre is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Patrons with questions about accessible seating can call the box office during regular business hours.