Stones in His Pockets Synopsis
McCarter play synopses are provided to help inform curious or potential audience members about the story content of our plays in production. They are fairly detailed in their description of a play’s events. Some may want to read the overview of the story below before the performance, while others may skip the synopsis to avoid the revelation of plot points before experiencing the play in performance.
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The action opens on an idyllic, scenic village in County Kerry, Ireland. The town has been thrown into a tail-spin with the arrival of a cast and crew, all on set for the production of a major American motion picture, The Quiet Valley. Charlie, one of the film’s extras, stands at the food services table pleading with the caterer for an extra slice of lemon meringue pie for another extra who has “sprained his ankle.” Meanwhile, another extra, Jake, a “local” and another extra, is lounging in the sun and laughing at Charlie’s failed attempt to score another piece of pie. Simon, the First Assistant Director of the film, enters barking orders to the Third Assistant Director, Aisling. Aisling, who is young and anxious to impress her superiors, yells at the extras to get in place. Jake and Charlie mumble under their breaths, and Charlie divulges that he recently lost his video shop to a bigger chain that moved into town, Blockbuster. They take their positions near Mickey, an extra in his 70s, who is a local celebrity as the last surviving extra from the 1952 filming of famed Irish-American director John Ford’s The Quiet Man, which starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Then Caroline Giovanni, a glamorous American film star, appears on set; she is followed by her dialect coach, John. Caroline is struggling to perfect her Irish accent, and John suggests that her accent may improve if she listens to locals speaking casually at the village bar. Jake remarks on how beautiful Caroline is, how out of reach, and how terribly awful her accent is. Charlie confides in Jake that he’s written a film; after watching so many movies in his shop, he finally decided to pen his own. As the last scene slated to be filmed for the day wraps, Charlie walks up to Aisling with his script in hand, but she does not have time to speak to him. After several attempts to talk to her, Charlie quietly puts his script back in his pocket as he runs into Mickey. Unsolicited, Mickey warns Charlie not to make himself known as an extra–to “survive” he must lie low.
Sean Harkin, a cousin of Jake’s, stumbles in. Though Sean had admired Jake and spent time with him in years past, Sean had changed in recent years. Sean is visibly high on some kind of drug and fuming that Aisling threw him off the set the day before for being under the influence of something. He exits furious. Jake sees Sean’s friend, Fin, and questions him about what can be done for Sean. Later at the bar, Sean staggers around asking if anyone has any drugs on them. When he comes up empty handed he becomes even angrier than before and storms off. Jake and Charlie spot Caroline in the corner of the bar. She seemingly ogles and then eventually makes her way over to Jake, who she invites back to her hotel for a drink. Before he departs, Charlie implores Jake to take his script with him, just in case.
The next day on set, Jake recounts via flashback the story of his night with Caroline to Charlie. In an effort to woo her, Jake tells Caroline that he writes his own poetry, and, trying valiantly to pass them off as his own, quotes lines from famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Caroline catches Jake in this lie. Charlie interrupts Jake’s story to ask if anything happened and perhaps, more importantly, if he showed her the script. Jake responds in the negative to both queries. Disappointed, but not undone, Charlie runs to Aisling in hopes of giving her the script, but she brushes him off and urges him to give it to the Production Office instead.
After wrapping a scene, Simon informs Jake that Caroline would like to have coffee with him. Jake is told that he will have just ten minutes with her before he is ushered away. But first, Jake is grilled by Caroline’s security guard, Jock; the experience leads him to the realization that he does not necessarily want to visit with her again. He is pestered by Simon to keep the appointment, and encouraged by Charlie that it could lead to more work. Once in the trailer, the two make small talk and Jake becomes aware that the only reason Caroline asked him to coffee is to help her with her accent. Jake becomes fed up with Caroline’s rude attitude and leaves before his ten minutes are up.
Spoiler alert! If you would like to read what happens next in the story and how the play ends, click here.
The following day, as they are ushered into places for their next scene, Jake confides in Charlie about how awful Caroline made him feel. During a pause in the scene, Fin rushes onto set, causing a commotion. He informs Jake and Charlie that Sean committed suicide the previous day, by walking into the lake and drowning himself. He notes the divers found Sean’s body with his pockets full of stones.
Jake, Charlie, and the rest of the extras, try to process the tragic news of Sean’s death and find it difficult to show any joy during the filming of the movie’s final happy ending. Fin is especially distraught remembering that Sean had plans to get out of Ireland; not wanting to be a butcher like his father, Sean had hopes of traveling to American to be in the movies.
Nick, the film’s American director, realizes that production has been held up by the weather and they will need the extras for another day of shooting. The film executives have no regard for the fact that Sean’s funeral is scheduled for the next day, and that most of the extras plan to attend. Simon threatens to fire all of the extras if they leave for the funeral.
During a break, Jake rushes off the set to find Brother Gerard, hoping to find some solace as he reflects on Sean’s death. Jake questions Brother Gerard, Sean’s primary school teacher, about Sean. He tells Jake about an essay Sean wrote about cows and how he wanted to manage his own herd one day. Sean’s father had been forced to sell much of his land, thus altering Sean’s dreams.
Jake returns to the set as Caroline makes an impassioned speech to the cast in which she thanks them for working in a time of tragedy. Charlie thinks the speech is lovely while Jake is critical, having soured on the production and become negative on all around him.
At Sean’s wake, Jake speaks with Mr. Harkin, Sean’s father, to express his condolences. Fin is distraught and recalls that Sean had tried to talk to Caroline the night before he died, but she had Sean thrown out of the bar instead—and, adding insult to injury, Sean later saw Caroline leave the bar with Jake. It seems that being rejected in his own hometown—and bested by Jake, whom Sean viewed as someone who did little or nothing of value—led to Sean’s death the next morning.
Back on set, the crew is forced to scrap two trucks worth of flowers because an actor has hay fever. Jake pleads with Simon to send the flowers to Sean’s funeral. Caroline overhears their conversation and steps in to demand that the flowers be sent right away. Simon obliges. The extras are granted a short break to attend Sean’s funeral, and, much to Charlie’s surprise, Caroline attends as well.
Mickey shows up to set following the funeral drunk and is promptly fired. After giving Simon a piece of his mind, he resigns with his head up high. Mickey’s righteous departure prompts an idea for Jake: What if Charlie’s film was about the extras and the people behind the scenes in movies? Jake implores Charlie to write a new script telling their story, the story of their town, and of young Sean Harkin. The two bring their idea to Nick in the hope that he will get behind the project. Nick does not see the value in the script and offers “advice” on how to make it commercially viable. Jake and Charlie don’t agree with Nick’s assessment and decide to move forward with their version. The play ends as the two excitedly discuss their plans for how to make their film, on their own terms.