Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Realistic Joneses

Clockwise from left, John Lamb, Dana Friedman,
Dave Pierini and Elisabeth Nunziato
star in B Street Theatre's production of
“The Realistic Joneses.” Courtesy photo
“Variety” described “The Realistic Joneses” by Will Eno — currently running at the B Street Theatre — as “weird and wonderful.” In three little words, it completely describes this weirdly moving and wonderfully funny play that was nominated for both Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards.

Director Buck Busfield pulled out the big guns from the B Street family to cast Dave Pierini and Elisabeth Nunziato as Bob and Jennifer Jones, with John Lamb and Dana Brooke as their new neighbors John and Pony Jones. These four have performed together for so many years that their chemistry was a given before the lights even came up.

As the play opens, Bob and Jennifer are enjoying the night air in their back yard. There is something “off” in this relationship. Conversation is strained. Jennifer struggles to find a topic of mutual interest and wonders if, after all these years, they have run out of words. Bob seems more distracted and grumpy. Jennifer keeps trying to find subjects that will please him, to no avail.

Into this scene stumble (literally, falling over garbage cans) John and Pony Jones, newly moved into the neighborhood, who have been eavesdropping on their conversation over the fence. They awkwardly intrude themselves into their neighbors’ lives. John is the more outgoing, and Pony is just a little “fey,” seemingly afraid of everything, especially bugs and germs and illness.

When Bob and John disappear into the house, Jennifer, feeling the need to “tell someone,” blurts out details of Bob’s rare degenerative neurological disease, which causes him spasms of pain, periodic vision loss and memory lapses.

(Those who have dealt with loved ones with dementia will find this play increasingly familiar, as Bob’s symptoms worsen.)

The deepening involvement of the two couples evolves over a series of short scenes, in which some further revelations are made, attractions are admitted, and the need for support from “someone” on the part of each of the four characters contributes to what seemed, originally, to be an unlikely friendship.

What drives this play and makes it such a success (it is, according to Busfield, “the most-performed play across the country in the last six months”) is the writing of playwright Eno, who poses questions of mortality, frustration, solitude, love, loss and coping so adroitly that he elevates the most pedestrian of human activities.

He explores the difficulty of communication, between husband and wife or among friends. He shows the difficulty of dealing with someone with a debilitating mental illness and how isolating that can be.
And yet, there are many light moments when you laugh as well as cry at the condition of the four characters as they struggle to find a foothold in normal world.

When John makes a surprising confession, the whole picture changes significantly and the closeness and comfort the two couples share with each other in the closing scene seems a logical progression of their friendship.

By the end of the evening you will wonder how much you really know about your friends and neighbors.

I heard a lot of comments along the line of “I’ll have to think about this one …” leaving the theater, and the play may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely worth giving this quirky show a try. It will definitely get you talking to each other, and perhaps examining the secrets in your own life.

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