For ‘Stones,’ two actors play 13 roles
Those who catch Hudson Stage’s production of “Stones in His Pockets” — on stage this weekend through Nov. 17 — might expect the curtain call to be more crowded than it will be.
That’s because two actors play a host of characters in Marie Jones’ comedy about a Hollywood film company taking over a small town in County Kerry, Ireland.
Jay Stratton and Richard Hollis begin as two extras on the film set, Jake and Charlie. But before long, they’re changing identities and becoming Hollywood types and other locals. The changes are made simply, with a bit of costume, a hat, a slouch, and an accent. Dan Foster directs the action.
Stratton plays Jake, third-assistant-director Aisling, Mickey, a local in his 70s who was an extra on “The Quiet Man,” local boy Sean, accent coach John, and Cockney crew member Dave. Hollis, a Londoner by birth, plays Charlie, first-assistant-director Simon, Clem the director, local boy Fin, the film’s American star Caroline Giovanni, local teacher Brother Gerard and Jock Campbell, Caroline’s Scottish bodyguard.
It’s an exercise in concentration, in knowing who they are playing at the moment. And it’s not easy, Stratton says.
“So far, all I’ve got right is Jake and Mickey,” he says, joking, in a break from rehearsal last week. “I’m hoping the rest come along. As long as I know what to say next, I’m not too concerned about the voice. But there are times when we finish a section and I’m not sure what’s next.”
This is rehearsal, their first day on Steven Kemp’s set at Pace. Sometimes, an actor will find himself playing two characters simultaneously.
“A traditional play, once you get good at it, all you have to do is walk out on the stage and you don’t have to plan or think of anything,” Stratton says. “You just walk out on stage and react to whatever happens. This play, you can’t do that.”
Hollis agrees. “It’s weird, when you cue yourself,” he says. “Like ‘I’m finished with my bit. Oh, wait! It’s still me.’”
The key to keeping them distinct, he says, “is pinning down a character to a pose or a tone or one thing that will act as a spark. Trying to keep Irish people Irish, Scottish people Scottish, English English.”
“I’m interested in how much or little we need to do, especially in a gorgeous, small space like this,” he says of Briarcliff’s Woodward Hall Theater, a converted lecture hall and Hudson Stage’s home.
“It would be nice if it was just the simpler the thing, the more it read, the more it doesn’t get into some sort of grotesques.The danger is that it just becomes a parade of voices and you lose the heart of it. And there’s such a fantastic heart of it.”
“Stones in His Pockets” has a lot to say about the way Hollywood treats the local population, how it exploits them and how film companies arrive with a stereotypical view to perpetuate. But it is said with a wink and a nod and a twinkle in the eye.
Charlie is a bit of a dreamer, whose life is a bit of a mess, Hollis says. The character has had many jobs, but no success. And now he’s living in a tent, going to the set with a script and a dream that Hollywood will find it and he’ll be swept away to a finer world.
Jake, just back from New York, has struck out at the American Dream and returns home with his tail between his legs, Stratton says.
“The town isn’t the safety net I needed it to be. It’s neither what I remembered it as or what I hoped it’d be, the soft pillow to fall into. Neither is it moving in a direction that will create new possibilities. It’s kind of contracting because of this American commercial pressure on it.”
The actors seem to be handling the pressure of their imminent opening with good humor, joking about the challenges presented by this different sort of play. Foster’s rehearsal is more collaboration than indoctrination, on a journey with his actors to find these characters, their voices, their essences.
And then have Hollis and Stratton put them in their pockets for their curtain call.
‘Stones in His Pockets,’ weekends, Nov. 2-17. 8 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays; 3 p.m., Sundays and Nov. 17. $35, $30 students and seniors. Pace discount. 877-238-5596. www.hudsonstage.com. 914-271-2811. Q&A with artists after Nov. 17 matinee. Note: Call ahead before heading to the theater. Hurricane Sandy may play havoc with the playing schedule.
Second photo: Jay Stratton; Third photo: Richard Hollis. Photos by Joe Larese/The Journal News