First impressions: I’m a loss for words. Words, what are they anyway? Language, in small doses. Bite-sized Chewables. They’re like tools, too, right? A rusty tool. No, more like a weapon, a big cudgel. Say, what is a cudgel anyway? Hey, look up at the stars. What was that noise? What I am? A writer, right? But who am I? I think I liked the play. No, I know I did. Maybe. That’s a funny word, ‘play.’ Sounds like recess. Is it actually receding? Am I dying? Where do my atoms go? I feel like praying. Not really. I’m mad. I’m glad. I am Spartacus. I am Eno, too. Eno. One. I’ll sort it out later. Really? Really.
What the hell was that?: Sorry about that. I am fresh from a Will Eno play where language gets a workout, de-constructed, made trivial, made tedious, made profound — sometimes all at once. But once you get its stream-of-conscious staccato rhythms, it really gets to you.
But what’s it about?: Ah, that’s for you to figure out — just kidding. Not really. Stop it!
The story line begins with the meeting of two couples, both named Jones, who live in a suburban town near the mountains somewhere. Bob (Tracy Letts) and Jennifer (Johanna Day) meet their new neighbors, a younger couple named Pony (Parker Posey) and John (Glenn Fitzgerald) and discover they share more than similar homes, sensibilities and ways of communicating. Both husbands have serious health ailments that affect those around them. Their dire situation gives them pause to reflect on life, death and existence as well as ponder the significance of breath mints.
Ah, existentialism: Yes, but very funny and sometimes provocative stuff from a master who has a unique voiceof his generation of playwrights. Eno is a Pulitzer Prize finalist for the dramatic monologue “Thom Pain (based on nothing)“ and has also written “Middletown” and “Title and Deed.”
But “The Realistic Joneses” goes into new territory for Eno, centering on a story and characters that are seemingly more real, or should I say “realistic,” which means “in the style of realism,” which isn’t exactly the same thing as “real.” If you follow.
And it’s fun to follow when you’re guided by this talented quartet of actors, under the smooth and steady hand of director Sam Gold who manages the quirky and delicate tone just right. David Zinn’s set and costumes, Mark Baton’s lighting and Ken Goodwin’s sound— love the distant wind chimes — contribute to the slightly unreal world of the stage.
All four actors balance that stage artifice with tender humanity and enter Eno’s weird world as if they were longtime residents. Posey brings her well seasoned comic timing and offbeat personality to the role of Pony, a fragile, frightened wife who is living in denial. The mixture of braveness and vulnerability are shared by Letts’ and Days’ long-married couple. But it’s Fitzgerald’s endlessly fascinating, funny-sad John, as we see him go from a man who plays with words to one who can only able to whisper “terror” into his wife’s ear.
But it’s sometimes an uneven ride. There are moments where you feel Eno’s language is running in place. You’re not sure if there are serious undercurrents or it’s simply glib profundity.. But there are also moments of shattering beauty, silence or (gasp!) heart, and you just feel in your bones that the play speaks to you, even though you don’t quite understand the language.