Pity the poor Irish. They have a surfeit of gloriously green countryside, a literary tradition of unusual depth and a firm belief that everything will be better if they migrate to America.

Sure, some folks are stuck there, with family or cows or both, but miracles do happen. In Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets – now being staged by the Orlando Theatre Project at the Orlando Repertory Theatre – that miracle comes in the form of a huge American film that's to be shot on location in County Kerry. The locals now have a window of a short few months in which to earn 40 pounds per day, all for standing around and looking dispossessed or digging turf – whatever the heck that does for anyone.

We see the film project through the eyes of two local lads, Charlie Conlon (Chris Pfingsten) and Jake Quinn (John Connon). Charlie has written a script of his own, and hopes to score a big connection. Jake has actually been to America, which did him little good but helps him understand that the film crew's arrival won't be any magic solution to the problems of their village. Beautiful actress Caroline Giovanni takes a shine to Jake, and while thoughts of wild animal sex course through Charlie's mind, her real intentions are more mundane: She hopes to improve her phony-sounding Irish accent via exposure to the real thing. It's not much, boys, but it's a small brush with glory.

All these personalities, however, exist mostly to buttress the main character, the hapless Sean – a boy cut off from his future in farming ever since his dad sold their land yet equally unable to climb the mountain of Hollywood success from this remote Irish hamlet. Acting out his frustration, Sean brings the whole film to a halt – if only for a day.

Two actors are charged with representing this entire small-town story; one less, and we'd have some serious minimalism on our hands. Both Connor and Pfingsten pull off multiple roles, usually with little more cue to the audience than a change in voice or maybe the donning of a hat. While this risky modus operandi occasionally proves confusing to those of us without a scorecard, the transitions are mostly clear enough to keep the "Huh?" moments to a relative minimum.

Anyway, the individual characterizations are bitterly close to the mark. Take elderly Mickey, who worked in the background of John Wayne's The Quiet Man and thus knows the business of being an extra inside and out. (Key observations: "Do as you're told" and "They can't fire all of us, we're already in the camera.") Pfingsten's falsetto Caroline Giovanni almost exudes sexiness but remains just this side of camp – which is just as well.

So what's happening here, comedy or tragedy? Both, as director Eric Hissom recognizes in Jones' words. While laughs bracket the action, the underlying story is one of deep sadness. Ireland has changed, and farming in the old way no longer affords stability nor the cash to make ends meet. The hills, however, are changeless, and while that draws the occasional set of Yanks over to film or tour or dig up genealogy, it's not enough to feed a proud people.

Charlie and Jake see the film for what it is: a lucky break and a chance to pocket a few shekels for the next month. But after that there's no tomorrow. Sean takes it the hardest of all – he's lost both future and past, and has nothing to keep him afloat.

The people of the town are reduced to cattle, told where to stand, sit, laugh, dance and cry. When that's done, they can go eat grass – if they can find it. It's a deeply dramatic story, like the Irish themselves. You never know whether to laugh or cry in this dark, dark comedy, but either is appropriate at any time.

More by Al Pergande


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