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A CurtainUp Review
The Realistic Joneses
By Elyse Sommer
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.