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No Moss 

A Perfect Stranger keeps the Palace's show rolling.

Two performers playing 15 characters, and one of those actors is the guy who played Balki Bartokomous, the "don't be ridiculous" character from the late-'80s sitcom Perfect Strangers. If the wild applause Bronson Pinchot received for merely stepping onto the stage is any indicator, the Balki factor is reason enough for some to see Stones in His Pockets -- it was as though he carried all the celebrity wattage of Liz and Dick in their prime.

But even if you're unmoved by the star factor, Stones has something to offer: giddily well-crafted (if sometimes hammy) character acting and a script that's sharp and funny (if not quite riveting). So go ahead and applaud Pinchot just for showing up; by the end of the show, he'll have earned your fond theatrical regards.

Stones in His Pockets tells the story of the merriment and mayhem that sweep through a small Irish town when a Hollywood film crew takes up residence to make movie magic. Charlie (Pinchot) and Jake (Tim Ruddy) are the anchors of the narrative, two film extras who are more or less in it for the 40 bucks a day and the baked Alaska provided by the caterers. The film stars "Caroline," an American box-office queen with a distinctly Southern flair. And who might that be? Julia Roberts? With Bronson Pinchot in the role, she's kind of a Scarlett O'Hara meets Miss Piggy. It's a shamelessly overbroad characterization, with the emphasis on broad. And it's great fun to watch Pinchot as Caroline work her wiles as the fluffy yet well-intentioned artiste.

But the glorious diva is only 1 of 15 characters played by these two agile, nimble-minded performers. Ruddy, an Irishman, does delightful turns as Ashley, the sexpot assistant to the assistant director, and Mickey, the granddaddy of all extras. Mickey was an extra in John Wayne's The Quiet Man and apparently has lived off his props from that credit for quite some time. "You can't fire me!" he shouts at the director. "I'm in the can!"

Then there's hard-ass assistant director Simon (Pinchot), who doesn't further the plot much, but is worth a mention for his bizarre variation on "Lights, camera, action," which commences with a weirdly rhythmic "rolly rolly rolly" chanted into the headset. It's a hilarious recurring riff that exemplifies what this production has to offer at its best.

That's because playwright Marie Jones's superb characterizations are what make Stones worthwhile -- and not her plot, which doesn't quite achieve a balance between the Hollywood-invades-quaint-burg culture clash and the story of the suicide of one of the film's extras, a drug addict named Shawn. The play's principal flaw is that Jones doesn't give Shawn sufficient stage time for us to really care what becomes of him. Stones' other fault is its disorienting beginning: We hear a movie trailer -- an aural device to lead us into a work about the power of this great visual medium. That's all well and good. But it takes a while to get a sense of the plot and to get used to the multicharacter gimmick. A stronger setup would have helped.

Audience members weren't exactly rolling in the aisles on this night, but neither were they gathering moss. Stones in His Pockets offers a fun evening for audiences with a deep appreciation for the actor's craft.

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