“The Stones” Has Too Much Mystery

As you enter the smaller 100-seat black-box theater in the Daniel Art Center at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, where the Great Barrington Public Theatre has a summer residency, you notice a strange configuration of objects of various sizes, most with a flat surface and in a vaguely circular pattern. More definitely, there is a ring of small stones encircling them and separating the playing space from the audience. Before the play begins, a woman will circle the two groupings of stones (set designed by Dai Ban) and methodically place a small stone in empty spaces along the outer circle. Is this some sort of ritual?

Ryan Winkles/GBPT Kat Humes

The lights black out and come up on a man (Ryan Winkles) lying on the two large stones centerstage facing away from the audience. Is he dead? Is he asleep? Will we be watching his last moments on earth or will it all be a dream?

The questions start fast and furious and continue for the play’s fleet of 75 minutes and don’t let up. I’m still asking questions a day later. We’ve been told the play may be a ghost story and there are many similarities to Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” which only encourages more questions.

The young man is Nick, who has just walked out of his teaching job and seems to be leaving his partner Hamish when he gets a text on his phone with an unidentified number. It is amazingly Chris who he had some sort of attachment to in High School, which inspired Nick to leave poison pen notes in Chris’s locker. Notes that elliptically spelled out disturbing occurrences such as all of Admiral Scott’s ponies died on his exhibition.

And here he is many years later, texting him out of the blue when Nick is at loose ends. Nick wants to apologize for those strange notes, and Chris asks him to go to the theater. Now, we know this is a British play. In fact, it is by Kit Brookman and was seen by the director, Michelle Joyner, at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and is being given its American Premiere by GBPT which focuses on new works.

Ryan Winkles/GBPT Kat Humes

There are also two musicians (Alexander Sovronsky & Wendy Welch) sitting stage right who will act as a chorus, adding emphasis and commentary with vocalizations, echoing final words of sentences and snippets of pop songs, most prominently “Royals” by Lorde when the quote “Let me live that fantasy” is distinctly heard. Although, I was teased with what I thought was a snippet of “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” or, no, it was “Walking on Broken Glass.” This play sent me down many rabbit holes chasing cultural allusions.

During the date with Chris, Nick meets Amelia, who identifies him as “You’re a teacher!” and engages him for a full-time job, including room and board at a remote manor house where he will tutor two young charges.

Nick builds a boat with the children in the mornings and there are dire warnings of climate change and a vague sense of foreboding throughout. I’m not sure if there was a religious allusion and frankly, at a certain point, I was more inclined to let the play’s moods wash over me because it was certainly more successful at creating a spooky atmosphere and drawing out questions than in supplying any narrative that I could describe or react to for you.

The play covers a lot of ground and Ryan Winkles is a most engaging presence. I kept wanting him to tell longer stories and be more forthcoming about his experiences, but he is kept moving both by the script and the director, skipping from stone to stone accompanied by the musicians and a busy and precise lighting design by Matthew Adelson and sound design by Jacob Fisch.

The play entertained and puzzled me almost in equal measure and the only thing I’m certain of is that Ryan Winkles is a damn fine actor and it has been too long since I’ve seen him onstage.

“The Stones” runs through 7/2, Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm, Sat and Sun at 3pm.

Tickets: greatbarringtonpublictheater.org/

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