AISLE SAY Twin Cities


by Marie Jones
Directed by Michelle Hensley
Ten Thousand Things Theater
Open Book
3153 36th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN/ 612-203-9502

Reviewed by Vlad Dima

The Ten Thousand Things company does things unconventionally, and the production of Stones in His Pockets is no different. Michelle Hensley directs again, and makes all the right choices. There are almost no props (with the exception of two stones), there is no traditional stage, and two actors share the fourteen parts of the play. This is a brilliant dark comedy about two extras playing in a Hollywood movie taking place in a small Irish village. The two extras are actually the main characters of the play, and eventually they also become the main characters of a film they would like to produce; the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, as the lines between actors and audience, stars and extras, past and present, and even animals and humans disappear.

The play opens with the two actors playing (Irish) cows, and it closes with the same image, which is the desired last scene in the (yet to be filmed) movie. I know, it’s complicated; but the meta-story works. It navigates through funny and lighthearted moments, and then it suddenly brings forth difficult life questions and even death. It is relevant to the current world we live in; the extras worry about what will happen after the film ends, what will they do, how will they make a living? What will we do after the play is over? The positive outlook of the denouement in which the two extras take charge of their own lives suggests that everyone can be anything they want to be. Then again, the two men also speak the truth that “movies aren’t real life.” But is theater real life? So this turns into the perfect play for the Ten Thousand Things theater group, which channels Brecht in its performances: the lights are left on, and the actors frequently interact with the spectators. When the two extras have to laugh in the American film, the audience laughs along with them, and the extras point at us saying “other extras were laughing too.” Consequently the audience becomes extras themselves. We are all lumped in together in this melting pot of life, and the connecting metaphor is that of the cow, or rather of people as cows. The suggestion that people are (like) animals is a common metaphor in literature and film, but it strongly reminds me of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros.” In this instance, though, there is no metamorphosis: we are cows in the beginning and in the end. In one of the main character’s words, “stars become the extras, extras become the stars. The cows are where it starts and where it finishes.” And just in case the audience misses the connection, we are told again as a final thought, “all you see is cows.” It is not as absurd as Ionesco would have it, but it is quaint enough to be simultaneously humorous and depressing—the definition of dark comedy I’ll say.

Steven Epp, who has been a stand-out with the Jeune Lune Theater, is wonderful and forlorn as Jake, the Irishman who returns home from America because of homesickness. He gets a chance to be more playful as Ashley, and to show even more range as the physically fragile, but strong willed old man Mickey. The other actor, Jim Lichtscheidl, also has to stretch between extremes, from Clem who is the pretentious, vision lacking director of the film, to the simple, yet hopeful Charlie, who is the other “main” extra. However, Lichtscheidl really shines as the typical American diva star, Caroline, whose pretentious style draws most of the laughs. Both actors display tremendous versatility as they constantly alter their personas, which was a little tough to follow in the frenetic beginning. Nevertheless, when they do settle into a rhythm, they play off of each other perfectly; they are a powerhouse comedic duo. As they move swiftly from one side to another, from one character to another, it begins to feel as if all of the characters are present at once, and that is a fantastic accomplishment.

Beside the sudden and frequent changes of personas, the play also moves back and forth in time, and between comedy and tragedy. We see Jake and Charlie as children, we laugh with them as drunken adults, and then we worry about their reaction to Sean’s suicide by drowning (which gives the title to the play). We also proceed from the small microcosm story of Jake and Charlie to the larger narrative of the film they are in, then to the play they are acting in, and finally to the film they want to make based on what just happened in the play. So the play unfolds like a reversed Russian doll effect, from small to large, only to fold back upon itself as it winds down and until it becomes a miniature again. Like a stone in everyone’s pockets.

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