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A CurtainUp Review
The Realistic Joneses

"You hurt my feelings. You hurt my feelings everyday."&mdash Jennifer;
That's what feelings are for."— Bob

"Nature was definitely one of the big selling points of here. Plus, the school system's supposed to be good." — Pony
"Oh, do you have kids?"— Jennifer;
"No, it's just, John hates stupid children." —Pony
Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Has Will Eno, an off and off-off-Broadway playwright, settled into an easily accessible, contemporary marital comedy with his first Broadway play, The Realistic Joneses? The coincidence of having two couples named Jones live next door to each other makes it a fair bet that the play will live up to its billing as a comedy. The small town near a mountain setting hints at a modern day version of the old cliche about the name Jones used as a symbol for a typical American family.

But Eno is still Eno. While the dialogue is likely to have you laughing quite often, you'll also find it quite a challenge to understand how and why the laugh inducing pieces fit into the larger, darker pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that Mr. Eno has put together. You won't be amiss if you find thoughts of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? surfacing as you watch Jennifer and Bob (Toni Colette and Tracy Letts), the older Joneses, being visited in their backyard by their new, younger neighbors Pony and John (Marissa Tomei and Michael C. Hall).

Jennifer and Bob's cryptic conversation and his detached almost hostile remarks indicate that all is not perfect in this peaceful small town home. That instant reaction is ratcheted up by John and Pony's not quite right personas (she is overly thrilled with her new home, he's a too charming wordplay-aholic and the fact that actor-playwright Letts last appeared on Broadway as the older couple in Albee's four hander.

While the shadow of Albee is indeed present in the Joneses' world, so is Samuel Beckett's. Much as Eno's characters, especially Michael C. Hall's John Jones, tickle our funny bone, this is not the happy all-American home of Andy Hardy movies in which the recently deceased Mickey Rooney starred long ago. The Joneses' world, though in many ways average and familiar, is unnervingly troubled and scary, resistant to the comfort of nurturing togetherness.

Unlike Albee's Martha and George, the fears haunting Jennifer and George — as well as Pony and John — are are not fueled by vast amounts of alcohol. Nor are there any explosive confrontations. This is a quiet play that reveals each character's individual demons over the course of a dozen brief, rather melancholy one-on-one or four-way scenes. The discourse see-saws back and forth between getting to know you small talk, to clipped sentences indicating a lack of connections and an abundance unexpressed feelings, to non sequiturs.

The elephant in both homes is a rare and serious ailment afflicting both husbands, the way everyone copes, or doesn't cope, with that ailment's pain and uncertainties. The Mrs. Joneses' seem to represent the able and less able type of caregiver. The male Joneses exemplify different aspects of fear, denial and neediness.

Director Sam Gold and these outstanding actors manage to evoke both the ominous and playful aspects of Eno's script. And David Zinn's rather unattractive but efficient set allows this marital mystery to move effortless from one couple's patio to the other's kitchen, as well as a supermarket meeting between Jennifer and John. And while I generally don't like a play with a lot of blackouts, the work very well here. In fact, several quick blackouts in the middle of a scene between the two men is especially effective.

For all its assets, Open House , Eno's other new play which just ended its run at the Signature Theater, is the better and more satisfying of the two. All things considered, despite the excellent starry cast and expert direction, The sum of The Realistic Joneses turns out to be considerably less than its parts.

The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno
Directed by Sam Gold
Cast (alphabetically): Toni Collette (Jennifer Jones), Michael C. Hall (John Jones), Tracy Letts (Bob Jones) and Marisa Tomei (Pony Jones).
Scenic design by David Zinn.
Costume design by Kaye Voyce.
Lighting design by Mark Barton.
Sound design by Leon Rothenberg.
Stage Manager: Jill Cordle
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission
Lyceum 149 W. 45 Street 212/239-6200
From 3/13/04; opening 4/06/14; closing 7/06/14
Tuesday - Thursday @7:30pm Friday and Saturday @8pm Wednesday and Saturday @2pm Sunday @3pm
Tickets: $39 to $135
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