FORT WORTH Plays with two or just a few actors playing multiple roles as the primary device are nothing new, but they seem to have become a specialty for Stage West, which is bringing back — “by popular request” — Marie Jones’ Olivier Award-winning Stones in His Pockets.
Stage West first presented this comedy in 2007, in one of its transition spaces in the years between the former TCU-area home and its current one on Vickery Boulevard, dubbed the Ol’ Vic. That first production, directed by Jerry Russell, was at Tarrant County College’s Northwest Campus, and starred Jakie Cabe and Chamblee Ferguson in the primary roles of Jake and Charlie, two down-on-their-luck blokes in a rural Irish town whose lives change, temporarily, when a Hollywood movie is shot on their swath of the Emerald Isle.
This time, Stage West uses two-thirds of that team, with Russell directing and Cabe co-starring, this time with Patrick Bynane. The set (by Jim Covault) is similar, with three downstage panels picturing verdant countrysides, bordered by film strips. In front of them is a row of footwear, all kinds of shoes and boots representing both genders and the 15 roles that the two actors play.
Jones captures a vivid portrait of a moment that disrupts the lives of the people in a sleepy town, but also gives them opportunities. Jake and Charlie get the chance of a lifetime as extras on the film, called The Quiet Valley. The other characters include media types, the director and behind-the-scenes movie folk, and the big-name actress, Caroline (played by Bynane), a Meryl Streep type (only more vain) who never met an accent she couldn’t nail down. And there’s a local who was also an extra on the most famous movie shot in these parts, The Quiet Man.
There are poignant moments that give us a glimpse of the difference between the haves and have-nots, and the title refers to the suicidal method employed by one character, which propels the narrative into mystery and reconciliatory motion.
Bynane quickly squelches any notion that he’d be in the shadow of Ferguson, a tall, lanky actor with notable physical comedy skills. Bynane meets the same qualifications, and he and Cabe engage in quickfire back-and-forth, using subtle shifts in physicality to offer memorable snapshots of these characters, many of whom we get to know through relatively few lines of dialogue.
The funniest moments come in the second act as Jake and Charlie get their brief on-camera moments, and Bynane is particularly adept at using his eyes to denote character shifts. Typically, a character change, as directed by Russell, is marked by the actor quickly pivoting or turning 360; a few hats come on and off, but other than that, there are scant clues to characters via the costuming (by Covault and Peggy Kruger-O’Brien). It’s all about the vocal and physical changes.
With this one, Stage West gets to show off two of its strongest skills: actors in multiple roles and British or Irish accents (again, they nail the accents). However, coming off the heels of the group’s phenomenal The Taming of the Shrew, in which four actors played most of that Shakespeare play’s roles, or even The 39 Steps from a few years ago (same device), Stones doesn’t seem like such a novelty hat trick anymore. It’s funny, but not as funny as those other works (nor as much as Texas’ most famous two-actor/multiple-role work, Greater Tuna).
It’ll be interesting to see how a six-week run for a show that was an audience favorite six years ago is received the second time around.