If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Realistic Joneses”, A World Premiere at Yale
“Words don’t really do it for me”, confesses one of the characters in the world premiere production of “The Realistic Joneses” currently on stage at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Will Eno’s thoroughly original new play has plenty of words to share, however, making this wonderful work a solid conclusion to Yale’s impressive and rewarding 2011-12 season.
Communication and use of words to deflect and to wound is at the core of Mr. Eno’s play, a work somewhere between natural and surrealism and heavily reminiscent of early Edward Albee. The “Joneses” are Jennifer and Bob (Johanna Day and Tracy Letts), an older couple who, in Jennifer’s opinion, are now just “…sort of throwing words at each other”. Into their lives come the other “Joneses”, younger couple John and Pony (Glenn Fitzgerald and Parker Posey), who have just bought a home in the neighborhood. Eno explores the lives of both Joneses through a series of 13 scenes running just under 90 minutes (no intermission). He employs the use of numerous non sequiturs throughout (handled deftly by the cast) as a way of demonstrating miscommunication and misdirection among the couples.
All of which makes “The Realistic Joneses” sound like a bitter marital drama. It is, in a sense, but it’s also darkly funny and the laughs are plentiful as these couples subvert wordplay with an expertise that is often breathtaking. Eno also seems to be exploring the issue of mortality here. Mark Barton’s effective lighting design shrouds the edges of most scenes in darkness as though the characters are continually at death’s door. John and Bob reveal medical issues throughout that point towards their mortality, but I’m not sure what Eno means us to do with this information. There may be another draft of this play in the author’s future.
Still, the acting company cannot be faulted and work as a true ensemble. Mr. Letts, best known as the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of “August, Osage County”, displays effortless subtlety that underscores just about every word he utters. And watch him handle some brilliant physical business as he attempts to outsmart a motion detector light. He is hilarious. So, too, is Independent film star Parker Posey, whose atonal phrasing of a line like “I wasn’t expecting that. Or I guess I was expecting that there wasn’t going to be that” is expertly timed and delivered. Johanna Day brings touching pathos to her role as a woman who may love her husband more than even she realizes while Mr. Fitzgerald’s wounded intensity suffuses the difficult role of John with hilarity and heartbreak. Although still gauging how to hold for laughs on opening night, I haven’t seen a stronger acting ensemble this season.
David Zinn’s scenic design placing both backyards on stage is initially off-putting especially with a grocery store sequence that is clearly set on the grass, but it all adds to the off-kilter world of Will Eno. The playwright may not have all the answers and reaches too far in some scenes, but “The Realistic Joneses” is one of those provocative plays that you could see again and again and never think the same way twice about it afterwards. Memorable, indeed.
“The Realistic Joneses” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through May 12. For further information or ticket reservations call 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is Chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.