Review: An Evening of Theater Magic

Posted November 4, 2022


By Gwendolyn Rice, Isthmus

In the late 19th century and early 20th century it’s estimated that 4.5 million Irish immigrants left their homes on the “emerald isle” and settled in America. They came looking for better jobs, more opportunity, and an escape from the devastating Irish potato famine. Today that means 32 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, and heritage tourism — courting those long-lost sons and daughters of Hibernia to come back to the magical, shamrock-green land of poetry, pubs, céili dancing, and endearing accents — is one of Ireland’s major industries. As a nation we love the fantasy of the “auld sod,” which is used to sell everything from St. Patrick’s Day cards and whiskey, to cereal and soap. In short, keeping “Irish eyes smiling” is big business on both sides of the Atlantic.

This is the starting point for American Players Theatre’s final production of the 2022 season — Stones in His Pockets, by Marie Jones. The poignant play is a complex, artistically challenging, two-man show about an American film company that comes to Ireland's County Kerry to make an earnest, charming, completely fictional costume drama called “The Quiet Valley.” While the cameras capitalize on the country’s legendary natural beauty, the movie’s script makes a mockery of Ireland’s history and makes caricatures of its residents, who have been hired as extras to fill in the crowd scenes. Over the course of the shoot, the film’s cast and crew don’t just ignore the modern economic and social problems of the region, they actively make things worse. But layered on top of this plotline is a fascinating study in storytelling — how powerful it is, how dangerous it can be, who drives the narrative, and how necessary it is to separate fact from fantasy.

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