One stage, two actors. Fifteen characters, an Irish village's worth in fact, as well as a Hollywood film crew and cast invading the village - that is the premise for "Stones in His Pockets." The play receives its Seattle premiere at the Capitol Hill Arts Center.
For the two guys who have to carry the whole play on their shoulders, it means long rehearsals and some interesting problems. Like how do you do a three-minute dance in which most of the characters appear when there are only two actors on stage? Oh, and keep in step with the music!
Seattle actors Darragh Kennan and Timothy Hyland relish the challenge, even figuring out that three-minute dance.
Kennan suggested Marie Jones' play to CHAC as a perfect work for Center's newest venue, a cozy little performance space built to one side of the bar downstairs.
"I saw the play on Broadway and fell in love with it," said Kennan. "Jerry Manning, who is directing it here, had directed the play before. And Tim was available. So it all came together."
"I had an interest in this piece too," said Hyland. "I had read 'Stones' after a buddy of mine had auditioned for it in Vancouver and said I should look at it. I was thinking about places where it might be produced in Seattle."
Both actors are of Irish descent. Kennan's parents came from Dublin and he still has many relatives there. Hyland is descended from an Irish immigrant who made his way across Canada and eventually settled in California. Both men found that the stories that "Stones" tells, from the last living extra of "The Quiet Man" to an American leading lady who can't master the accent, resonated with them.
"Marie Jones, the playwright, is from Belfast and she has a real sense of how people talk to each other in Ireland, the wit and the banter. The dialogue is not only really funny, it's accurate," said Kennan.
Hyland previously appeared in an adaptation of "Into the West" at Seattle Children's Theatre, another Irish tale that required him to play a variety of characters, including a horse.
Hyland finds the two plays both similar and quite different. "Into the West" was adapted from a movie with many actors into something for the stage with only three actors, he explained, but "Stones in His Pockets" deliberately was written to force this multitude of characters to be portrayed by two actors.
"Just two actors telling a story," said Kennan. "The technical aspects are stripped down. Yes, we have lights, we have sound, but really it strikes the core of storytelling. That is what is so cool about it."
Kennan further explained, "The appeal for me is not playing eight characters. It's being able to tell a story with one other actor. Have it be just about the acting and just about the story."
The rehearsal process is slightly different for Hyland and Kennan.
"It's different," said Hyland, "because at the end of the rehearsal period, you realize how hard that you've been working because you do everything. In a normal rehearsal process, you do a scene and then sit and sort of wait for the other people to do their scene. It does feel like there are other people in the play, but it is always me. I do Mickey and then I turn around and I'm the third AD telling all the actors what they have to do in the film and then I'm Jake."
"It's all in the transitions," said Kennan. "Turning up stage and becoming another character and coming back. It's all in the timing."
Hyland also thinks this time of year is the perfect time to launch "Stones in His Pockets."
"It's not a Christmas play, but in terms of the theme and the fun of the play, it definitely has a kind of holiday feel. So, hopefully, people will go see 'A Christmas Carol' and all those things, and then come see this," he said.
"The play is really, really funny in its heart. I think all different people would enjoy it," said Kennan.
The cozy atmosphere of CHAC's newest space also lends itself to the convivial Irish spirit of "Stones," said Kennan. "We are trying to structure the piece so people can really feel like they are part of it."
"All the productions that I have heard of have been produced in a very traditional, proscenium-style theater. And this will be very much like a cabaret and in that way really reminiscent of Irish music hall. I think it will work really well in this space," said Hyland.
"And people will be allowed to get drinks and bring them in," added Kennan. "So people will feel like they are extras in a movie with us and that they are sitting in a pub in Ireland. That would be the greatest atmosphere that we could create."
"Stones in His Pockets" opens Dec. 2 at CHAC. Tickets are available through www.brownpaper tickets.com or at the door. For more information, check capitolhill arts.com.
Rosemary Jones writes about arts and entertainment in the Capitol Hill Times. She can be reached at email@example.com or 461-1308.