Theater Review: J.R. Sullivan returns to direct Stones in His Pocket

Our community welcomes Jim Sullivan with open arms. His contradictions in the arts enrich us all, and when he is directing at New American Theater (NAT), we return to the beginnings of his career and the gift of theater that he has given us.

Since leaving Rockford to become a free-lance director, Sullivan has become known nationally and internationally for his exceptional work. From the Utah Shakespearean Festival to Milwaukee Rep and Penn State University, he is in constant demand.

A special event was held to honor Sullivan at the opening of NAT’s Stones in His Pocket. During intermission, a stunning photograph was unveiled in the lobby honoring Sullivan and as a constant reminder of his dedication to New American Theater.

In Sullivan’s note on Stones in His Pocket, he says, “Comic situations drive the story while all the while, there is a subtle and surprising uncovering of the play’s heart—and sharp stabs from the play’s soul.”

On this St. Patrick’s Day, it is easy to see Sullivan’s return to his Irish roots and the importance of the work of Brien Friel and Martin McDonagh as well as Marie Jones, the creator of Stones. His feel for the Irish and their tragic past is evident, and as he directs, these emotions come to us, the audience.

Stephen F. Vrtol III as Charlie and Ted Deasy as Jake give absolutely amazing performances. Stones’ premise, an American film company comes to County Kerry for a shoot… The Quiet Valley.

Authenticity in their eyes is the use of locals to play workers, farmers and background for the stars. Jones includes dozens of characters in the play, and Vrtol and Deasy play them all.

We become fascinated with their ability to not only speak dialogue that changes in a moment, but to literally become the feminine director flipping her hair over her shoulders to the ancient gentleman who played an extra in The Quiet Man.

Their body language gives absolute credibility to the characters.

The two actors exhibited their talent and professionalism during the entire production. We welcome Stephen Vrtol to the stage of NAT, and Ted Deasy’s first appearance here, we hope, presages many more. Although Stones in His Pocket is the description of a tragic end, the comic relief perfectly balances the work.

Stones in His Pocket played through April 2. Next is the musical Tommy, with music and lyrics by Peter Townsend. Opening April 25, it runs through May 21. Tickets: 964-6282.

From the April 5-11, 2006, issue

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