Even with its stellar cast, which includes Toni Collette and Michael C. Hall, this new play by Will Eno fails to keep momentum and pretty much flat lines in the second half due to both its humour and its existentialist sentiment wearing too thin.
Meet the Joneses. Two couples share the same surname but the similarities end there. Jennifer and Bob Jones (Collette and Tracy Letts) are the older of the two couples. He is jaded, cynical and sadly suffering from a very rare condition that causes rambling and forgetfulness. Cue the existentialist speak. Jennifer tries to hold it together and keep the routine and harmony going under such stressful circumstances. She oscillates between being a molly coddling wife and a detached, passive-aggressive carer. Collette performs this so well and provides many amusing moments. Equally, Letts’ clever acting, with his sardonic quips and cutting put downs, allow for many humorous moments.
Eno is known for his belief that routine is the glue to everyday living. It holds our relationships together. He injects this view into the five or six scenes that make up this play and it does deliver something to think about. What do we construct that gives us connection between each other? What does keep a person sticking with and loving another even when the pitfalls of modern middle class life are clawing at you? But for me, this is all the play offers. After it is established in the first few scenes that these four individuals are off-beat, anxious or tired of life, the climactic moment of the play doesn’t really satisfy. The final scene, where Eno seems to be trying to lull us into a sense of peace and resignation, does not quite succeed.
A strong feature of the play was the banter between the other Joneses. John and Pony Jones (Michael C. Hall and Marisa Tomei). Pony is ditsy and John is very literal, taking everything at face value and speaking his mind and not worrying about the repercussions of this. They are the younger, more wide-eyed of the couples allowing the older couple to have a field day mocking their 21st attitudes and preoccupations. Perhaps Eno is pointing out that even between the different generations the same ‘stuff’ still causes us to stumble and the quest to fill our lives can be a tortured one.
The set (David Zinn), which remained the same throughout the whole evening, saw the interior and exterior of both their houses share the same space. A typical white sliding door at the stage’s centre represented how we can cocoon ourselves from the wider world and also show the ease with which unwelcome strangers can simply ‘slide’ in.
The actors are funny and their timing is a pleasure to watch. There was the potential that the play would go down a variety of paths. But in the end, no path was taken. What was conveyed at least is that being resolute about something or perhaps even idle are not too bad a way to spend a life.
The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno
Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street, Broadway, NYC
Reviewed on 19th April 2014
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus