I am on the fence with Will Eno. Hated 'Tom Pain' (based on nothing), ADORED 'Middletown', and pretty much liked 'Open House'. This production of 'The Realistic Joneses' has done little to help move me toward the sunny side of the fence. Two couples with the same last name, and with the same physical ailments present, are new neighbors in a little town near some mountains. They speak in spurts. The way a teenager learns to drive a stick shift. Forward. Not-so-fast! Stop. Stall. Shift to neutral. Foot on brake. Restart.
The play (no intermission) consists of a series of scenes which are in and of themselves often gems.
…Do you want to talk?
What was just the whole thing about painting the house? And the other night about Belgium?
That was two very short conversations. I don’t have some particular, I’m not… it just seems like we don’t talk.
What are we doing right now? Math?
No, we’re– I don’t know– sort of throwing words at each other.
There are a lot of these moments. The two couples gravitate toward one another because of proximity and little else. But in this case, that is enough. The men are grappling with their own physical dilemmas and the women are mopping up the messes as they come up. In the case of Jennifer (Toni Colette) and Bob (Tracy Letts) they are in their mess together. In the case of John (Michael C. Hall) and Pony [yes, this is her name] (Marisa Tomei), she is not in on the secret.
What about Pony?
It’s all taken care of.
I’m hoping you can check in on her.
That’s how it’s all taken care of?
I’m not a details person.
These scenes are poignant and clever. Eno makes you pay attention to each moment these characters share. As well, there are some terrific performances here. Michael C. Hall (in spite of the audience, literally cheering when he entered – puhleeze) gives John a certain attention to detail combined with an imbalance that gives the impression he is walking a tightrope. Tomei’s Pony is bordering on manic that whizzes through her like a quick puff of air. You don’t pay attention, you won’t see it. Collette is less effective, but possesses a stillness that speaks of a woman who is trapped but cannot struggle too hard because her husband is bound to her. Only Mr. Letts seems out of place which was immensely disappointing. While he is sincerely playing the part of a man who is ill and battling the daily unexpected events, he brings little depth or color to Bob until the final scene of the play.
There is no story here, no plot, and that is of course on purpose. It reminds me of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information. This is a series of scenes that are meant to connect because of the subject at hand. I also thought of the time that a friend and I performed a short reading of nothing but one liners from Booth Cartoons. A hilarious event. But those are pieces not meant to connect in a formal way. Here we have four people stranded in a tiny town ostensibly doing everything they can TO connect.
Eno is examining how we are realistic with one another. How we stop and start. Change direction, the turn around and come back to the starting place. Got it. In this world of short attention spans, where Tweets and texts are “cray-cray” are the communication styles du jour, Eno fits right in. Me – I can dig that and have done so. Once that premise is evident, however, as it is within the first 15 minutes, the remaining time becomes a dull tune of only a few notes played over and over again. As anyone who has heard a child play a toy piano on a rainy afternoon, the situation becomes maddening in short order. I left the theatre in search of adult conversation – you know, the kind that informs you, leads down a new path, leaves you richer in spirit. Like that. Cray-cray or what?
What the popular press said...
"Plays as funny and moving, as wonderful and weird as 'The Realistic Joneses', by Will Eno, do not appear often on Broadway. Or ever, really."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Under Sam Gold’s tight direction, the cast is natural and convincing. But three-quarters of an hour into the 95-minute show, the script simply circles without deepening, darkening or clarifying."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The show starts off strong before running in circles, leaving you wondering what the point was, exactly."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"There are the times when Eno's wordplay in his 95-minute work becomes excessive — a writer's weakness for rambling through the potentials of language – but the production succeeds in creating its own distinctive atmosphere, of laughter amid great sadness."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"The absurdist intellectual humor of playwright Will Eno is very much an acquired taste, provoking as much discomfort as laughs, and placing him somewhere between Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee. But theatergoers willing to dive into the sea of ellipses in this mordant, melancholy existential sitcom will find the waters bracing."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"The all-star cast not only brings out character nuances that would be lost in a less savvy production, they might even manage to keep the house open for much if not most of the show’s limited run. But word is bound to get out that Eno’s tragi-comic sensibility is hard to digest for anyone who hasn’t already acquired a taste for it."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...