Despite the title, Will Eno’s THE REALISTIC JONESES, now receiving its Chicago premiere in a co-production between Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit, does not seem to wholly exist in the real world. Though Jack Magaw’s tidy set design, Hailey Rakowiecki’s quotidian costume designs, and John Kelly’s lighting design are all quite realistic, Eno’s play dwells in the realm of the absurd. Rather than following any conventional narrative structure, THE REALISTIC JONESES plays out as a series of vignettes between two married couples; both are the Joneses of the title. The elder Joneses, Jennifer and Bob, are long-time residents of the unidentified town near the mountains, while Pony and John are newcomers to the neighborhood.
The first encounter between the two couples plays out with a seemingly normal level of awkwardness that comes with making small talk with strangers; some of Eno’s lines of dialogue are quite funny. But it soon becomes clear that the entirety of THE REALISTIC JONESES consists of non-sequiturs; sometimes the characters seem to voice them out of fear or wonderment, other times these statements are more introspective. The whole of the piece feels meandering and nonsensical, never quite building to any point. Then again, Eno seems to be suggesting that that’s the rhythm of life, endlessly ricocheting between the mundane and the meaningful. While that’s an interesting idea, 100 straight minutes of it becomes altogether puzzling and tiring.
Under the direction of Theater Wit’s Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler, the ensemble has a commendable grasp on Eno’s quirky language and cadence of dialogue. THE REALISTIC JONESES presents a challenge for the actors because I’d argue that aside from Jennifer, who commands considerable empathy from the audience as she cares for her ill husband, Bob, the characters are unsympathetic. Linda Reiter, always a treat onstage, conveys all of Jennifer’s simultaneous bewilderment and generosity as she cares for Bob. As her husband, H.B. Ward effectively conveys a man who seems to be slowly unraveling as a cause of a fictional syndrome that’s affecting his brain; Ward’s performance alternates between moments that seem lucid and those that seem teetering on the brink of insanity. Joseph Wiens maintains a bit of a mysterious edge as John. Cortney McKenna perfectly conveys Pony’s franticness and nervous energy, particularly when Eno’s text has her narrating her interior thoughts for the audience.
While THE REALISTIC JONESES is indeed set in “the real world,” Eno’s play is totally absurd. Eno’s stylized dialogue plays out as a stream-of-consciousness, broken up into individual scenes with seemingly arbitrary beginnings and endings. Eno is clearly approaching THE REALISTIC JONESES with a particular point of view in regard to content and playwriting form, and it’s not a style that will appeal to all theatergoers. But for those who appreciate absurdist theater, THE REALISTIC JONESES may hold appeal.
Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit’s co-production of THE REALISTIC JONESES plays through March 9 at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont Avenue. Tickets are $24-$74. ShatteredGlobe.org or TheaterWit.org
Photo by Evan Hanover
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com