I walked into The Realistic Joneses blind, unfamiliar with Will Eno’s work, and I’m so glad I did. Red Stitch Theatre’s The Realistic Joneses (directed by Julian Meyrick), is a play about two couples, both with the last name Jones, who are neighbours in a quiet mountain town. On a small stage with porch chairs and the sound of crickets chirping we meet our cast. Bob (Neil Pigot) and Jennifer (Sarah Sutherland) are a disconnected married couple who find their life interrupted by their new neighbours – the neurotic Pony (Ella Caldwell) and her tactless husband John (Justin Hosking). Both couples soon realise the parallels they share with one another and fumble through issues like existential dread, illness and infidelity.
The Realistic Joneses was the 2014 Broadway debut for playwright and author Will Eno (Middletown, Gnit). Eno’s play Thom Pain (based on nothing) was a 2005 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Nine years later in 2014, The Realistic Joneses would win a Drama Desk Special Award.
Much of the play reads like a dark sitcom, in large part thanks to Bob (Neil Pigot) and his unfailing deadpan. Confronted with a rare congenital illness, Bob is at a loss for what to say or how to act, and Pigot’s commitment to portraying brash uncertainty is captivating. Meanwhile, his wife Jennifer appears to take on everything that Bob cannot. Jennifer is overwhelmed and unsupported – Sutherland does a fantastic job of portraying Jennifer’s loneliness and frustration, often simultaneously – “I’m going to take a deep breath. Well, that didn’t help.”
For the most part The Realistic Jones is performed on a stripped back stage, but in one scene the bright supermarket lights and easy listening music provides a welcome change. This is where Jennifer finds companionship in John whom had begun the play as something of an insensitive fool. He brilliantly manages to coax some of Jennifer’s suppressed emotions out of her in the middle of the supermarket. Sutherland and Hosking’s constant back and forth in this scene is definitely a highlight. Additionally, it is John’s development which proves to be the hallmark of the play, as he learns to stop hiding secrets with punchlines.
Caldwell is impressive as Pony, who’s portrayal of anxiety feels deeply authentic. Pony’s relevance is in her inability to process the existential dread that each character grapples with, “I’m a totally unreliable person who’s filled with terror.” While Pony finds her emotional equal in Bob, Caldwell and Hosking allow Pony and John to emanate a genuine love for one another by the play’s end.
Perhaps the only thing missing is the lack of interaction between Jennifer and Pony. After all, the audience gets to see John and Bob size one another up on the porch one night, curious about one another’s hidden motives and yet sympathetic to the other. “What position did you play in football? Do you ever cry?” A scene of equal length between the women of the play would have been welcome, though perhaps Eno saw that an hour and a half of constant dialogue would suffice.
Even if one is unfamiliar with Eno’s dialogue heavy, stream of consciousness style script, The Realistic Joneses is worth seeing if only for this impeccable ensemble cast. Each character fumbles through life’s big questions and in the end it is Bob’s cynicism turned into vulnerability which resonates “I’m sorry for all the feelings.” Eno provides no clear conclusion for his audience in regards to his characters nor the big questions they ask. Regardless, you are guaranteed to leave the theatre equal parts hopeful and sad.
The Realistic Joneses will be on at Red Stitch Theatre until May 28.