Few things irritate the good people of what Donald Rumsfeld famously termed "Old Europe" like being treated as characters in a theme park built for American amusement. And we're not just talking about vacationing American tourists complaining that Londoners don't wear enough doublets and hose or the French left their striped shirts at home. To the amusement of the Irish-born, they have a few pretty good faux-Irish theme parks up and running in Wrigleyville.
"Stones in His Pockets "
is a droll, savvy and hugely enjoyable entertainment by the Irish playwright Marie Jones, now at the Apple Tree Theatre. It is a play born of the bitterness of watching gobs of Americans tromping over the complex countryside like it's part of a Jameson's commercial, bemoaning anything (like job-creating factories) that spoils the picture-book vistas.
Ergo, a world of mutual antipathy and dependence that here is mined deliciously by Jones for sharp and pointed comedy.
"Stones in His Pocket" follows the adventures of Jake and Charley, two lively Irish lads (played by Will Clinger and John Hoogenakker) who are serving as extra peasants for 40 quid a day on some big, American, period picture. The location shoot is headlined by one of those insufferably earnest and egotistical Hollywood stars. The kind who engages in some slumming seductions. Just for research purposes.
The gimmick here and it's a corker is that the same two actors play all the parts. Although anchored on Jake and Charley, between them, the pair account for the pompous British director, the harried assistants, the aforementioned star and the savvy old Irishman milking the shoot for all the juice he can drink. With virtually no set, the pair zip back and forth from one character to another with a quick toss of the head.
This terrific little show a perfect match for Irish-loving Chicago sure took its sweet time arriving. Michael Cullen of the Mercury Theatre held the rights for years. But for some reason, the production never panned out.
Cullen was talking about bringing actors from the New York production, but Steve Scott's production in Highland Park is a strictly Chicago-area affair. But Clinger and Hoogenakker do the work proud. And it's directed with just the right dram of zest and the right head of truth.
With all due respect to the reedy Clinger (who creates a deliciously confused and empathetic character), this is Hoogenakker's night. This young actor, hitherto best known for his work at the Chicago Shakespeare, offers a veritable cornucopia of clever and distinct characters, male and female. His seemingly endless enthusiasm is most affecting, and his craft is evident.
It's hard to imagine a show better suited for a commercial transfer downtown it's cheap, funny, smart and no doubt enjoyed best of all on a gentle cloud of Guinness. After all, the Irish don't ever drink anything else.
Or do they now?