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Article updated: 3/20/2013 5:22 AM

Northlight's 'Stones' a wry, well-acted Irish comedy

By Scott C. Morgan

Who knew that two of the most beloved actors from the Utah Shakespearean Festival would end up performing at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie? That happy occurrence is playing out now that David Ivers and Brian Vaughn are starring in Marie Jones' wry 1999 Irish comedy "Stones in His Pockets."

This coproduction between Northlight and the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespearean Festival allows Chicago-area audiences to see why so many theater lovers make the trek to Cedar City in Southern Utah each summer and fall. In fact, I used to be one of them before I relocated to Chicago in 2003.

"Stones in His Pockets" is an ideal vehicle to showcase the many talents of Ivers and Vaughn, who both rose in the ranks as repertory actors starting in the 1990s before they were named as Utah Shakespearean Festival artistic directors in 2011.

Belfast playwright Marie Jones crafted "Stones in His Pockets" to use just two actors to play dozens of characters involved with the making of a big-budget Hollywood movie named "The Quiet Valley" (an obvious reference to the John Wayne film "The Quiet Man") filming on location in County Kerry in Southwestern Ireland. Through that plot device, Jones touches upon many issues ranging from British and American condescending attitudes toward Irish stereotypes to Ireland's poverty and historic lack of good jobs.

The focus is on two film extras: Carlie Conlon (Vaughn), a failed video store owner who wrote a screenplay, and Jake Quinn (Ivers), a listless chap who has returned home to Ireland after an unsuccessful stint in New York.

Throughout the play, these two alternately toe the line as background artists while also jockeying for more attention when opportunity presents itself (especially when Jake gets spied by the vacuous American starlet Caroline Giovanni whose Irish dialect is terrible). And when Jake's drug-addled cousin commits suicide, the lack of humanity from the filmmakers also comes to the fore.

Director J.R. Sullivan puts Vaughn and Ivers through their paces, as they morph seamlessly from character to character through distinctive (and hilarious) changes in voice and physicality. These three team up so adroitly that it's never a muddle to guess which character the two actors are sending up.

Though the audience is in for great tour de force performances, it does feel like some of the more serious sides of the play get short-shrift in favor of the comedic moments. The play itself also loses a bit of momentum toward the end, though I can't entirely fault the performers since Jones' script could have used some trimming.

But despite these quibbles, "Stones in His Pockets" emerges as a very rewarding trans-Atlantic trip to Ireland by way of Southern Utah and Skokie.

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