Bob (Tracy Letts) and Jennifer (Toni Collette) are sitting outside their house one night. They talk, they bicker, they don’t really communicate. Jennifer gets mad. Bob is perplexed. They are married. The new neighbors Pony (Marisa Tomei) and John (Michael C. Hall) show up and disrupt the quietness. They are daft. They say inappropriate and nonsensical things. Bob is ill. His comments can be biting and sarcastic. He has a syndrome with no proven medical protocol. Pony and John go home.
Such is beginning of Will Eno’s, The Realistic Joneses, a mildly amusing, off-center piece of theater. In his recent Off-Broadway production, The Open House, Eno stated: “Playwrights have been trying to write family plays for a long time…They try to answer the question, ‘Can things really change?’ People have been trying nobly for years and years to have plays solve in two hours what hasn't been solved in many lifetimes. This has to stop.” Unfortunately, once again, Mr. Eno is true to his words as the four characters simply interact, get angry, ruminate about life, and behave oddly. He takes a matter-of-fact situation—ill family member and colorful neighbors—then bends and twists it into humorous and absurdist vignettes that he cobbles together in an attempt to coalesce into a whole.
The first part of the 90 minute, intermission-less play bodes well for the audience, but soon devolves into, well, a mixture of strangeness and struggle. It would be interesting to see the type of play that could be crafted if Eno employed a more structured narrative, while still retaining his skewed sensibility.
The star-studded cast works well within the orbit of the playwright’s machinations. Toni Collette’s Jennifer, more anchored in reality, conveys concern, pain, and loneliness as she attempts to deal with her husband’s medical condition and cope with his irrational and testy behavior. Tracy Letts, showing very little affect, can be incredibly insensitive and irritating as he masks how truly afraid he is of his disorder. Marisa Tomei is child-like, loopy, and the flakiest of the quartet. She can be very funny but, like all the characters in the show, there is an undercurrent of anxiety and distress as she moves through life. Michael C. Hall has the most difficult role of The Real Joneses. He must be lucid, eccentric, an oddball, and erratic, which he accomplishes with aplomb.
Through the many scene changes Director Sam Gold gives his actors plenty of leeway for their flights of fancy. Not much action happens within the show so Gold is more into positioning of the characters as they enter the stage for their scene. During the start of the play this is good enough to keep the audience’s attention but, towards the latter half of the production, the inactivity becomes somewhat wearing and tiresome.
The Real Joneses, more misses then hits.