By Dee Jae Cox
At some point in our lives we are all faced with mortality. The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno, takes us into the melancholy and somewhat strange world of two couples, Bob Jones (Luke Rainey,) Bob’s wife Jennifer, portrayed by Christine Tringali, and their new next-door neighbors, John (Tanner Lieser) and Pony Jones (Brianna Eylicio.) Eno, whose previous work, ‘Thom Pain (based on nothing)’, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005, would seem well suited for TV. His dialogue is quick and choppy and every second sentence is an exercise in wit. When Jennifer Jones says, “we’re sort of throwing words at each other,” it perfectly summarizes the play’s dialogue. Rather than having synchronized conversations, these characters talk in punch lines.
The play opens with Bob and Jennifer painfully trying to have a conversation. Two people who seem bound only by a marriage license and sad avoidance. Within a short time the banging of garbage cans signals the arrival of their new neighbors, John and Pony (also named Jones). These are four people hidden away in a mountain town attempting to live lives that appear to be as generic as their names. The new neighbors bring wine and when Bob goes in search of glasses Jennifer impulsively reveals the reason they moved to this town: Bob has a degenerative disease, and a leading doctor in the field happens to live here. The treatments are experimental, and the prognosis isn’t great. Seeming to be embarrassed at divulging so much to strangers, Jennifer apologizes, “I’m sorry, I just kind of blurted that all out.”
John responds: “That’s all right. That’s what separates us from the animal. You never hear animals blurting things out. Unless they’re being run over by a car or something.” Badda bing! Bada Boom!
Watching The Realistic Joneses is like viewing life through a kaleidoscope. The genre is written in a sitcom style, where each scene is little vignettes strung together to create the larger picture of these two suburban couples who have more in common than their shared last names. The whole premise is the Joneses must decide between having something more in their life or their imperfect reality. Eno has created a world of broken people who are in limbo. The challenge in watching The Realistic Joneses is that no one really communicates with each other, which is part of the angst of the whole play, but I was left wondering who exactly it was they were talking to?
Christine Tringali, (Jennifer Jones) is by far the best performance of the evening. Tringali portrays a caretaker who has devoted her life to her husband and is now also in the role of sorting out the mess lying underneath her neighbors easygoing exterior. Eno seems to have stereotypically written his female characters as either the matriarchal woman caretaker who carries the burden of everyone’s woes, or the chatterer who is always on the edge of fear that she will be left alone and doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in her world. If only the Playwright had allowed the women to actually have a conversation with each other, they may have figured things out. Though as disjointed as Eno’s dialogue is, even John and Bob couldn’t manage a connection with their evening talk under the stars.
Director Daniella Ryan, has used her masterful stage skills to create a top notch presentation of The Realistic Joneses. Ryan’s direction seems to bring out the vulnerabilities in characters that are seriously flawed. Loved Ron Phillips-Martinez’s sets and found Phil Murphy’s lighting designs to greatly enhance each scene.
Desert Theatre Works is a top notch theatre and they know how to do a professional production. “The Realistic Joneses” is a complex play that is most likely an acquired taste for some and an instant hit with others. If you are looking for theatre that will make you laugh and hopefully think a little, check out this show.
The Realistic Jonses, a production of Desert Theatreworks, can be seen through September 24th at the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, located at 73750 Catalina Way in Palm Desert.
For Reservations: call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and host of the hit radio show, “California Woman 411.”