Stones in His Pockets allows actors room to play
There's no profit in trying to reckon whether life imitates art or vice versa: Each is as real as the other, each the equivalent of rubbing a smudged windowpane with your sleeve and trying to ascertain what lies behind it. We see contours, we see shapes and shadows; we think we know what it all means at times but can't be sure. And then it's on to the next window.
Stones in His Pockets is an ostensibly humble thing, the story of a Hollywood movie crew descending on an Irish town in search of local color and authenticity (to callously exploit). And on the surface, Marie Jones's text amounts to little more than, let's say, an intermittently charming indie film (the details of which fade before the popcorn is vacuumed from the sofa the next morning).
But there's more going on here, and the credit goes both to Jones and Ten Thousand Things' brash and (figuratively) naked approach to the thing. The story concerns vagabond interloper Charlie (Jim Lichtscheidl), who has shown up in town to be an extra for a bit of cash and the free meals. Soon he meets doleful townie Jake (Steven Epp), whose remaining pride is moored to his refusal to admit that his hope and self-regard have left.
Another dozen characters play out the next couple of days, and Lichtscheidl and Epp tackle them all, with no sets or props (save a single rock and a couple of pairs of glasses) and minimal costume changes. With director Michelle Hensley, these two actors carve out giddily distinctive work, using constant metamorphosis to elicit laughs, despair, vacuity, and a refreshing, enlivening pointlessness when things are steaming along (that is, when Jones's attempts at connecting the dots can't be avoided).
Charlie is a fabulist from the start—he tries telling Jake a story about being on the run for nefarious reasons, but he soon emerges as a run-of-the-mill sad sack. Still, at least Charlie has a screenplay stuffed in his back pocket that he quixotically hopes to show to the movie folk. Jake has no such illusions, having run aground in America and come home to thin gruel. For whatever strange reason, it is Jake to whom American starlet Caroline (Lichtscheidl) takes a shine, though the relationship quickly goes awry when Jake (rightly) senses that he is being regarded as an interesting type and not an individual.
It follows that the concerns of the film crew (the director, two assistants, an accent coach, and security) are at odds with the priorities of the locals, a point driven home when local youth Sean (Epp) drowns himself after being excluded from the production. It seems Sean had boyhood dreams of stardom as a means of escaping village life, much like Charlie, and that the mythic Ireland of the film being made has been lost save for its idealization on celluloid.
None of which is terribly compelling, but the beauty of Jones's script is that it allows a pair of skilled actors all sorts of room to play (and presents all manner of challenges, such as how to introduce a new character by having an actor pull down his jacket, or by hunching forward while passing behind the other actor and, in the process, aging decades). Epp and Lichtscheidl harness a precious alchemy, telling an unremarkable story in a remarkable way and capturing life in all its mundane contradictions (and, daringly enough, laying bare the inherent bad faith in thinking one has seen the road to something special and unique).
By the end, we're asked to swallow a strained bit of optimism, but it comes and goes in appropriately perfunctory fashion. Charlie and Jake look through that murky glass, find a detail or two to give them hope, and then get on with it. Good on them.
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