Given its remarkable show of ability by local actors David Jason Kyle and Peter J. Doyle, I'm sorry to report that Blackfriars' production of Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets is attempting more than anyone involved can handle. The overall outlines of the comedy emerge intact, and the actors' commitment and understanding of their roles do make the conclusion the happy celebration it should be. But the play's killer technical requirements are beyond Kyle and Doyle and apparently way beyond director John Haldoupis.
Both Kyle and Doyle manage real-sounding Irish accents and considerable variety in vocal and physical delivery. Perhaps an unusually gifted director could fine-tune their performances and inspire them to rise to the play's demands. Stones in His Pockets presents a varied company of people filming a movie in County Kerry, Ireland. It shows us children, adults, middle-aged and old people, upper- and lower-class English and Irish, an American, males and females. Only two actors have to play them all and make clear who is which, mostly without props or costume changes, while as many as a dozen characters are onstage at the same time.
Not all Irish men have high-pitched, singsong delivery. Haldoupis lets Kyle stay vocally in his top range and use florid gestures for males and females, so that his First Assistant Director Simon seems to be a woman. The blocking confuses us about Kyle quickly switching back and forth between Simon and the female American film star, Caroline. Caroline is funny, but played too much as a sketch-comedy cliché to make us believe in her as a real person. In contrast, Doyle's deeper-voiced, bossy female assistant to Simon confused at least two people I spoke to who thought she was an effeminate male. And only in act two did Kyle's Director Clem sound English. Both actors drift occasionally into Irish accents while playing English and American characters.
Doyle gets some nice effects as Mickey, the local man in his 70s who was an extra in the film The Quiet Man about 40 years earlier. But he's allowed to do that corny bent-over shuffle and mugging in the beginning that establishes Mickey as a bad character actor, not a real character. Pity, because his Mickey is true and moving in his final scene. So is Kyle as Mr. Harkin and Brother Gerard, who both speak touchingly of the title role, the drowned suicidal boy Sean Harkin. However, Doyle's flat Sean was hard to remember when we got the tragic news about him. And I doubt that anyone understood that Kyle's physically amusing Security Man, Jock, has a Scottish accent.
A whole lot of fine-tuning is needed. Kyle can dance, but the comic Irish dance, which is usually a showstopper, didn't work because Doyle doesn't move well enough, and it wasn't amusingly choreographed. I also thought that Haldoupis' painted proscenium onstage was a mistake. It closed in the setting, which needs to be as open, variable, and suggestive as possible.
And yet there is the feeling that we really are watching multiple characters onstage and experiencing a comic, satirical, and sad story. Clearly David Jason Kyle and Peter J. Doyle are very talented and have put much good work into this play. Perhaps they can get some coaching to bring them up to their suggested potential before the run is over.
Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones, directed by John Haldoupis, plays Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m., at Blackfriars Theatre, 28 Lawn Street, through December 19. SpecialNew Year's Eve shows for $45 at 6:30 and 10 p.m. feature elaborate wine and dessert reception. Tickets through December 19 are $20-$22. 454-1260, www.blackfriars.org