When The Realistic Joneses ended my friend and I just looked at one another. We didn’t get it. But, it’s a play that got under my skin and has stuck with me and I haven’t been able to shake it loose. This is the genius of Will Eno.
There is nothing realistic about The Realistic Joneses. They are two married couples who share the same last name. Bob and Jennifer are older than their new neighbors, John and Pony, who just rented the house down the street. Coincidentally Bob and John are suffering from the same degenerative nerve disease that affects concentration and patience. They live in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere because this is where the world’s foremost specialist in this disease also resides. Not very believable or realistic, is it?
The couples meet and they banter. Generally people don’t converse in comic one-liners and non sequiturs. On the surface the lines are quirky and funny and keep you engaged as you watch both couples confront fear, pain, hopelessness and loss. You almost wish you could freeze the action and re-play the lines. So much is said and so quickly! Eno uses words rather than the physicality of the actors to create connections between characters. In a scene where John reaches out to touch Jennifer’s shoulder, their awkwardness is palpable — the way it was meant to be. Yet through Eno’s words you are able to grasp the depth of their emotion.
The acting is very good. Tracey Letts, Michael C. Hall and Toni Collette and Marisa Tomei make unrealistic repartee seem as real and fluid as possible and give life to characters that could easily become caricatures. I applaud Marisa Tomei who did a standout job. She portrays Pony as ditzy and vulnerable yet sharp enough to know that she better find some internal strength and soon.
This is a play about relationships between people and their place in the cosmos. Near the end of the play the two couples are sitting in the yard gazing at the sky and Bob starts talking about the immensity of the universe and how what happens in our lives is mostly out of our control. Bob, a real curmudgeon throughout most of the play, admits that he has taken some type of “happy pill”. Then he has a mint, offers one to his wife and you leave the theater knowing that everything will be okay. It is the way it was meant to be.
The Realistic Joneses is not realistic. Will Eno uses words and manipulates them masterfully to make what seems like a simple comedy continue to resonate long after the play ends. This is my second Will Eno play within just a few weeks. Recently I saw The Open House at the Signature Theater. In both plays he uses uncomfortable situations and unlikable people as tools to make us look at ourselves. Personally, I think Will Eno is a “softy” and an optimist at heart. He is someone I’d love to sit down and talk to.
The play began previews March 13 and opens April 6. Due to the star-studded cast performances are selling out. Discount tickets are available through Broadwaybox.com (http://www.broadwaybox.com/shows/realistic-joneses) LAR