Surreal Realistic Joneses at Yale Rep

By Amy J. Barry

The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno, premiering at Yale Repertory Theatre is an exercise in linguistic gymnastics. The contemporary comedy/drama, commissioned by the Rep, directed by Sam Gold, is a fascinating exploration of the way we use language to spar with our partners, to ward of anxiety, to avoid the truth, to speak volumes and say nothing -- or nothing that seems to make much sense.

 

The metaphor-laden play features two married couples sharing the same last name: Jones.

 

Bob and Jennifer (Tracy Letts and Johanna Day) are sitting at a picnic table in the backyard of their house in a semi-rural town one spring evening, talking about how they don’t talk anymore when John and Pony (Glenn Fitzgerald and Parker Posey) introduce themselves as the new neighbors, who just bought the identical house next door.

 

Nothing actually happens in the one-act play besides the characters crossing over each other’s property lines and each other’s personal boundaries to have bizarre but amusing conversations -- not because they’re trying to be funny but because Eno’s lines and the way the actors so deftly deliver them is absurdly humorous.

 

Stating the obvious is a constant in their conversations:

 

John: I found this company that’ll send you the transcript of any audio book.

 

Jennifer: Wouldn’t that just be the book?

 

Even their boring jobs sound eccentric. Bob, for example works for the Department of Transportation and orders the paint for the yellow lines on the street, which, of course, makes one think about how one never thinks about the specificity of what some people do for a living.

 

But there is a serious undercurrent. Jennifer tells the new neighbors that her husband is sick with a rare disease -- she is the only character who attempts to speak honestly. Pony’s only worry is if it’s contagious and shares that John has also suffered from a mysterious illness. In a later conversation with Jennifer about Bob’s condition, John responds with this gem of a line: “I saw you before. A few weeks ago, out in the parking lot. You were on the phone crying and eating a power bar. I thought, wow, that’s one sad busy person.”

 

Although Parker Posy gives a genuine performance as Pony, her character gets annoying after awhile because she is so anxious and ambivalent that everything she says is a contradiction.

 

“I feel like I should go to med school or cut my hair or something…I’m not cold, I just wish I was wearing a sweater.”

 

David Zinn’s clever set mimics the disjointed conversation by not clearly defining inside and outside space, and which house is which.

 

Mark Barton’s lighting plays a very active role. We are painfully stung with harsh fluorescent bulbs and relieved with darkness. Light and dark is in constant flux -- humorously in a scene in which the men keep triggering the motion detectors on their properties -- paralleling the play’s abrupt mood changes.

 

The Realistic Joneses is an intriguing play, delivered by an accomplished ensemble, about the predictability and unpredictability of life, and how we deal and don’t deal with fear and grief.

 

We never learn much about the characters -- if they have children or friends, if there’s anything they feel passionate about. They don’t show much self-awareness or ability to break out of their circular thinking. And they are only slightly less ambivalent at the end as they were in the beginning…but maybe that’s the point.

 

Performances of The Realistic Joneses continue through May 12 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven. Tickets are available at www.yalerep.org, or by calling the box office at 203-432-1234.

 

This review appeared in Shore Publishing community weeklies and online zip06.com and theday.com.



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