"The Realistic Joneses"
By David A. Rosenberg
Words, words, words, words. Instead of talking, characters are “throwing words at one another” in “The Realistic Joneses,” having its world premiere at Yale Rep. Will Eno’s elusive, elliptical play is both trenchant and tiresome as it paradoxically contrasts loquaciousness with lack of communication.
How do we deliver the right word, le mot juste, as the French would put it? In Eno’s world, people talk past and interrupt one another, while the universe mocks. It’s a potentially fascinating subject, done in by the cascade of non sequiturs.
Eno’s concern with language, which separates us from animals, has the reverse effect: we lose sight of the human beings he’s writing about. He does have a penchant for dark whimsy, though, as in “You never hear animals blurting things out, unless they’re being run over by a car or something.”
Anchoring his peculiar world in realism, he has two of his characters suffer from the same fatal diseases. His two couples, both neighbors with the last name of Jones, reach out for one another -- a touch here, a look there. But Eno cares more about our inability to say what we think we mean, precluding genuine exchanges
He favors dialogue like: “Everything is mortal,” followed by “Everything is everything.” Or “I feel like I should go to med school or cut my hair or something.”
When the Times dubbed Eno “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation,” the paper didn’t mention that Beckett, for all his seeming absurdity, adheres to structure and emotion. When “Waiting for Godot” was first done in Florida, it was advertised as a “laugh sensation,” but confused customers fled. Now that masterpiece is seen for what it is: a brilliant riff on the sad human condition of four men lost in an inhospitable, possibly inimical universe.
“Joneses” goes down that path, also. Mysterious rumblings of nature accompany lines like “What’s out there? What’s it waiting to do?” Ominous words like “terror,” “abandonment” and “disappearance” are meant to strike fear.
To quote the subtitle of another Eno play, “Joneses” seems “based on nothing,” which makes it also akin to “Seinfeld.” Like that landmark TV show, Eno’s four suburban neighbors use humor to ward off the heebie-jeebies and the audience responds, for the most part, with laughter. But not, we’ll warrant, with compassion.
Whatever faults may be found with the script, little is wrong with the production. Director Sam Gold keeps a firm hand on the 100-minute evening, de-emphasizing the play’s whims through grounding the characters in reality. As Jennifer Jones, Johanna Day captures the character’s deep anxieties and veneer of normality. As her husband Bob, Tracy Letts finds whiffs of mordant humor to ward off the inevitable.
As Pony Jones, Parker Posey, she of the odd delivery, teeters on the edge of eccentricity. But it’s Glenn Fitzgerald as the flaky, freakish, vulnerable John Jones who is the play’s nub. In his body language and flaky delivery he keeps everyone, especially himself, off-center, focusing attention on what is essentially unfocused.
Even more than the others, he is like ectoplasm, here but not here. It’s a telling description for “The Realistic Joneses,” too, a work for our unsettled times that uses gallows humor to spread existential dread.
“I don’t think anything good is going to happen to us,” says Bob Jones. “But, you know, what are you going to do?”