February 7, 2013
BY R. J. DONOVAN
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
This month, Lyric Stage Company of Boston is presenting “Stones In His Pockets,” the poignant but very funny tale of what happens when a movie crew descends upon a village in County Kerry.
As the story unfolds, two local guys, Charlie and Jake, secure jobs as extras in the movie but soon find the film business is far from the glittering world they expected. Ultimately, they decide to write a film of their own to tell what actually happens to a small town and its people when Hollywood takes over.
Two actors (Daniel Berger Jones and Phil Tayler) portray more than a dozen eccentric characters in the play, which ran for three years in London and received the coveted Olivier Award as the Best New Comedy of 2001.
Courtney O’Connor is directing the production at Lyric. Describing herself as “an Irish mutt,” she has roots stretching from Tipperary to Derry, Donegal, Carlow, and beyond.
The Pennsylvania native originally came to Boston to study for her master’s degree at Emerson. She fell in love with the city, stayed, and has been a member of the faculty at Emerson since 2002. Locally, she has directed productions everywhere from Commonwealth Shakespeare Company to Coyote Theatre and Brandeis University. For “Stones,” she returns to Lyric where she was associate director of the 2010 award-winning production of “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.”
We spoke recently about her work. Here’s an edited look at our conversation.
BIR: Has theater always been a part of your life?
CO: I started going to the theater when I was young. I remember the first kind of big show I went to see was “Annie” and just like every other little girl, it captured my imagination . . . I was very fortunate growing up that I went to see a lot of shows at the Walnut Street Theater (in Philadelphia). We had a family friend who was the music director there, and whenever a show would come in, he would send my grandmother and my uncle to go see it. When we he found out I was interested, he started including tickets for me.
BIR: People are still talking about “Nicholas Nickleby,” which was a spectacular effort, with 24 actors playing 150 roles.
CO: It was a production unlike anything that I’d ever worked on before. To me, one of the most amazing things was that every single person involved with it felt the exact same way – that this was one of those unique and special experiences – and they just poured themselves, heart and soul, into it. You could not have asked for a better group of people to come together to work on it.
BIR: And now you go from a huge cast down to just two actors playing all the roles.
CO: It’s a little bit of a different experience. Two actors, 15 characters, and I think about 8 or 9 different accents.
BIR: Marie Jones, the playwright, began her career in Belfast working as an actress. Does that experience give her writing a special edge for an actor?
CO: I think it gives her a different perspective. Certainly we have playwrights who have never acted, never set foot on stage in their lives, but who understand how an actor thinks and how an actor moves brilliantly. But I think it does give her a sense of what is possible. There are moments when the actors switch characters for just one line and then switch right back. Someone who’s not an actor may hesitate to write that.
BIR: Jones is also known for presenting social and moral issues in a way that doesn’t force a message as much as allow the audience discover it.
CO: I think that’s absolutely true. This piece has got so many different layers – it’s examining the film industry, it’s examining the effect on the town, it’s examining societal issues, financial issues, and how (the filming) literally rips apart the fabric of some of these relationships. But at the same time, you’re laughing. . . . It feels very much, to me, like the Irish way of telling a story. You have to go to the darker place to tell it, but you’re going to add that laughter and humor, because that’s how you have the strength to continue.
BIR: Very Irish, indeed.
CO: When I was in Ireland years and years ago, you would go to town after town, and (they’d say), “Here’s where we were invaded this time, and here’s where we were invaded that time” . . . What astonished me was the resilience of the Irish. At the end of the play, it’s that sense of resilience that Charlie and Jake have. The idea that you carry what happened with you. You carry the heartache with you. But you move forward. And you move in a positive direction. They don’t know whether or not their film will get made, but they choose to believe that it will. And they choose to believe that telling the story of everyone is as important as telling the story of the movie stars – that the individual will have just as much of an effect on the fabric as the larger person.
BIR: Your time in Ireland was memorable?
CO: For the entire time, from the moment our plane landed in Ireland – and I did not expect this – we got off the plane, started walking, started talking, started meeting people, and it was this complete, unexpected sense of “I am home.” People spoke the way I spoke, they thought the way I thought, they told a story the way I told a story, although theirs was more charming (laughing). It just really surprised me how much I immediately felt I was finally home. And I realized that something was missing that I hadn’t known was missing before.
R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com.
“Stones In His Pockets,” Feb. 15 - March 16, Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston. Tickets: 617-585-5678 or lyricstage.com.