The Realistic Joneses: In brief
If you know the deadpan-absurdist world of playwright Will Eno (Thom Pain, The Open House), you wouldn't think you'd see his work on Broadway. And yet, here it is—with a powerhouse cast that includes Tracy Letts, Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall and Marisa Tomei. Sam Gold directs the existential comedy about a pair of next-door neighbors.
The Realistic Joneses: Theater review by David Cote
Will Eno’s Broadway debut is a unique opportunity for the idiosyncratic writer to alienate and irritate whole new demographics. Cranky defenders of well-made plays will fume over its laconic non sequiturs and semantic literalism. Those who rarely go to dramas but are attracted by the celebrity cast will be mystified and assume it went “over their heads.” Then there’s that small sliver of open-minded folk ignorant of Eno’s work who may walk away converted.
At least that’s the hope. Broadway is averse to new plays—especially Eno’s weird, postabsurdist kind. Still, The Realistic Joneses might signal a softer, more approachable phase for the playwright. Its title mocks realism and monoculture (both its suburban couples are named Jones), but there’s a core of sympathy and, well, normalcy that seems new from the author of the icily hostile Thom Pain (based on nothing).
On David Zinn’s abstract set of backyards and sliding doors, director Sam Gold arranges a series of low-key encounters between neighbors Jennifer and Bob (Toni Collette, Tracy Letts) and John and Pony (Michael C. Hall, Marisa Tomei). There’s no plot, but Eno strews vague hints of infidelity, territoriality and mortality (both men suffer from the same degenerative disease). As usual, Eno’s dialogue is a marvel of compression and tonal control, trivial chitchat flipping into cosmic profundity with striking ease.
The actors are excellent, playing the minimalist music of the lines without losing warmth or individuality; if it’s possible to make us care deeply about characters intentionally fashioned as gnomic ciphers, these fine performers come closest. Whether or not you share Eno’s severe, brittle and frankly despairing view of existence, there’s much to savor: the dry but meaningful banter, the joy of humans sharing time and space, battling the darkness with a joke or silence. Life in Enoland isn’t what you’d call realistic—it’s more real than that.—Theater review by David Cote
THE BOTTOM LINE Will Eno’s deadpan quirkiness reaches Broadway.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote