By Marie Jones
Directed by Courtney O’Connor
Review by Craig Idlebrook
Here’s an ambitious idea: Re-film a warm buddy movie like Good Will Hunting, but have Ben Affleck and Matt Damon play all the characters in the movie….oh, and make sure they have flawless accents that represent all that can be found in the United Kingdom, too. It’s either Oscar bait or an actor’s nightmare.
The Irish dramady Stones in his Pockets, now playing at the Lyric Stage Company, is weighed down by this ambitious premise. The production charges the strong cast of Daniel Berger-Jones and Phil Tayler with credibly populating the stage with a bevy of U.K and U.S. characters who, we are to believe, are trying to film a Hollywood movie in Ireland. Masochistically, the play even starts off by talking about how ridiculous actors are when they try to fake the Irish accent, just when the actors are warming up to said accent themselves. A production this ambitious must hit every right note to have a chance, and, unfortunately, there are missteps that weigh it down and never allow it to reach its lofty goals of stagecraft.
It’s frustrating because you can see the potential in some of the play’s simpler moments. I bring up Good Will Hunting because the two actors bond best through their central characters, a pair of Irishmen eking out a living as extras on the set. The two characters start out as strangers but quickly become BFFs, and their chemistry shows sparks. But too often, their best moments are interrupted by one of the two having to assume another character, and director Courtney O’Connor favors making these secondary characters over the top. Our down-to-Earth pair is surrounded by screeching and pompous ninnies and cartoonish drug addicts and security personnel. While Berger-Jones manages to underplay the transition at times, and his secondary characters are the most effective, the jump seems to betray Tayler’s acting sensibilities, and the wonderful wide-eyed exuberance he has exhibited in past productions becomes too much here. Also, the pacing seems to plod often, as the actors struggle with the rhythm of the various accents and characters.
The pair could have used an assist from costume and stage design, but there is no cavalry here. Their simple period Irish garb is made to help the actors look authentically “displaced” for the movie and the set is generic Irish countryside. Both choices are not problematic in themselves, but the mixture of realism and artifice doesn’t make a strong enough choice to help the cast. It might have been more useful to leave the stage bare and give no costumes at all if the play is unable to populate the world with a realistic cast of characters. Then the actors’ choices might have been our only guides in how this world should be created, and we might have bought into their portrayals more.