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‘Stones’ a rock-solid production at Northlight

David Ivers Brian Vaughn star “Stones His Pocket” Northlight Theatre.

David Ivers and Brian Vaughn star in “Stones in His Pocket” at Northlight Theatre.

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When: Through April 14

Where: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

Tickets: $25-$72

Info: (847) 673-6300;

Run time: 2 hours and 30, minutes with one intermission

Updated: April 21, 2013 6:11AM

Marie Jones, a working class, Belfast-bred actress and playwright, penned “Stones in His Pocket” in 1996, during the very moment when her neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, was turning into a roaring “Celtic Tiger” and experiencing a unique period of economic growth and expansion. Of course by 2008, the country was in deep recession, with escalating unemployment, and government bond ratings approaching junk status.

Now, seen in retrospect — by way of an alternately rollicking and heartbreaking production at Northlight Theatre — Jones’ play serves as a reminder that nothing is forever, and that the promise of Hollywood’s classic “happy endings” often turns out to be more demoralizing than it is spirit-raising. The play also suggests that what can look like a boon, whether to the economy or the spirit, can very easily turn into an identity-shattering bust.

So why is there so much giddy laughter during the course of “Stones in His Pocket”? In large part it is because just two continually morphing actors — Brian Vaughn and David Ivers (who also happen to be co-artistic directors of the much-admired Utah Shakespeare Festival) — conjure a cast of thousands. And they capture much of what is most magical about the whole process of acting, impersonation and that imaginative leap an audience takes when it winkingly agrees to believe in nothing more than performers’ quicksilver shifts of body language, accents and attitudes.

Jones’ story is set in a rural town in County Kerry, Ireland, where a Hollywood film crew has come to shoot an epic period piece, and where locals have been hired as extras to enhance authenticity with the look of “the poor and downtrodden.” Most of these extras are happy to earn a good daily fee and enjoy the free food service, and even happier to rub shoulders with film stars. But that delight begins to sour for many reasons.

Among the extras are two thirtysomething guys. Charlie Conlon (Vaughn), is the upbeat fellow whose video store went bust, but who hopes to get his own screenplay into the hands of someone important. Jake Quinn (Ivers), is already embittered by his experiences working in theUnited States, but he’s temporarily distracted by the misunderstood attentions of Caroline, the film’s smart, sexy, superficial star.

Vaughn gives us a wicked Caroline, as well as the broken, drug-ruined fellow, Sean Harkin, whose sudden death upends the filming. Ivers plays the hip-swinging third assistant director (a young woman who treats the extras with contempt), as well as the hunched, elderly Mickey, who prides himself in having been an extra in the 1952 John Wayne classic, “The Quiet Man.” But the trick here is that these two actors also capture the full scale of the movie and its pivotal scenes. And they movingly suggest the nature of the “real life” in this town — an existence that profoundly eludes a film crew convinced of its total insight.

Directed by J.R. Sullivan (whose revival of “The Faith Healer” at The Den Theatre earlier this season remains unparalleled), the production worms its way into your heart, teasing with comedy but seducing with tragedy. Those are big shoes to fill, but these actors also have a stage full of souls (and soles) to lace up.

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