Marisa Tomei and Michael C
Photos by Joan Marcus
spite of its misleading title, Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses is a
charming new play that is bound to tickle your funny bone and make you think
twice about the people who live next door. Directed by Sam Gold, and
featuring a top-notch cast, Eno makes his Broadway debut with this quirky
comedy and lands lightly on his theatrical feet.
first came to the attention of the New York theater community when his one-man
play Thom Pain (based on nothing) arrived at DR 2 Theatre in February
2005, following successful runs at Edinburgh and the Soho Theatre in
London. Even those who might have found Thom Pain not to their
theatrical liking had to agree that Eno is an artist with an original
voice. Eno is no one-hit wonder either. His other plays— The Flu
Season, Middletown, Title and Deed, and his short play
collection Oh, the Humanity, and Other Good Intentions–have
all made sizable dents in the theatrical landscape and demonstrated that Eno
has a true gift for exploring the Big Questions with much humor and
The Realistic Joneses is essentially a love story that explores the lives of two
married couples, both with the last name Jones. On the surface, nothing
much happens. Bob and Jennifer Jones, who live in a small hamlet nestled
in the mountains, discover one fine day that another couple, John and Pony
Jones, have moved in next door. Oddly, the two couples make little ado
about the fact that they both share the same last name. But it is an
immediate nudge to viewers that Eno has tucked more than a few laughs into the
lining of his play. And he has. While the dominant themes of his
work are weighty ones—love and death, fidelity in marriage, ambition and
career—humor ripples through it. No belly laughs, Eno tugs quiet grins
from his audience, however, via his great one-liners, non sequitors, and
off-beat observations about people at painful crossroads in their life.
many will argue that the characters who populate Eno’s play are too outré for
Broadway audiences. And, on closer scrutiny, the aforementioned couples
are not your garden variety small-town denizens. There’s middle-aged Bob
(Tracy Letts) who’s recently been diagnosed with a serious illness and is in
denial over it, and his smart and beautiful wife Jennifer (Toni Collette) who
has left work to take care of him and become his feminine factotum.
His younger next-door neighbor John (Michael C Hall), a wizard at repairing
damaged goods, frustratingly can’t repair his own neurologically-damaged
nervous system, which makes him prone to seizures. John’s pretty wife
Pony (Marisa Tomei) starts out as rather a ditz but ends up as a fledgling
philosopher. This quartet of characters has their wild and wooly moments,
but as the scenes unfold one learns that they are quite capable of observing
and respecting boundary lines of all sort: personal, marital,
Michael C Hall and Tracy Letts
The Realistic Joneses, for all its quirkiness, is a story about four ordinary human
beings. And it is also the story of everyman, every marriage, and every
neighbor next door.
Zinn’s set is a credible rendering of a small mountain town, anywhere, in
America. One sees nothing more than a plain back yard and patio, picnic
benches, chairs, backyard accouterments and glimpses of their modest suburban
homes and local grocery store. That adage of keeping up with the Jones takes on
a more metaphysical and less materialistic, ring in Eno’s new play.
Ironically, this is less about the latest gadget and more about the latest
medication that might keep one out of reach of the Grim Reaper’s grip.
dead squirrel is writ large in this play about human beings. And if that
boggles your brain, it might help to recall Harold Pinter’s famous remark about
one of his play’s meaning being, more or less, like the “weasel under the
cocktail table.” Similarly, the dead squirrel in Eno’s play is the
jarring thing that happens in the course of one evening, arresting the couples’
trivial conversation, and forcing them all to live in the moment. While
“living in the moment” has become a worn-out cliché, it gains new potency here
in what is perhaps the play’s most natural and realistic episode.
the play is intriguing, the acting is excellent. The beautiful Australian-born
actress Toni Collette, playing the compassionate Jennifer, is the most grounded
character in the play. Letts, as Bob, is spot on as the seriously ill
husband who’s wrestling with the idea of dying at middle-age. The very
attractive Marisa Tomei, as Pony, is well-cast as she can subtly demonstrate
her character’s shift from ditziness to becoming a more mature woman.
Michael C. Hall is just right as John, who ultimately learns that his own home
and wife are his true lasting treasures.
be it from Eno to be a sentimental playwright. Eno scores big by staying
clear of mawkish sentiments and any hint of treacle. The Realistic
Joneses might not be, as its name suggests, always realistic. But it
is the right play to see on Broadway if you want a break from the splashy
musicals, revived classics, or plays with urban themes. What’s more, it
is the best way to find out about those who live next door—and how much they
are like one’s self after all.
Theatre, 149 West 45th Street, Manhattan
tickets, phone (212) 239-6200 or visit online www.telecharge
hour; 30 minutes with no intermission.