by Beki Pineda (Read the original.)
THE REALISTIC JONES – Written by Will Eno; Directed by Stephen Weitz. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Presented at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut) through November 17. Tickets available at 303-440-7826 or thedairy.org.
Will Eno has a distinctive theatre voice that seems to express most profoundly the variety of ways with which we deal with impending death. His character in WAKEY WAKEY (done last season by Benchmark Theatre Company) starts the play off by jolting awake and exclaiming, “Is it now? I thought I had more time.” We all think we have more time. It’s hard to accept the prospect of a lingering illness that has inevitability tied to it. Bob, one of the Jones men in this play, has been diagnosed with an apparently incurable illness (think ALS). His reaction is denial and a stubborn clinging to ignorance about it. He will do what he has to do to satisfy his wife and the doctors but he doesn’t want to know about the treatment or the illness. By ignoring the progress of the disease, he can pretend there isn’t any.
His wife, on the other hand, is the kind of caregiver who needs to know everything that’s going on and can’t understand his reticence. But she has learned it upsets him and tries to keep her panic and hurt inside. It’s taking its toll on their relationship. When she confesses that he has hurt her feelings, he says, “That’s what feelings are for.” They have learned to covet the quiet moments when there is no dissent and they can sit in the back yard and listen to the birds and the crickets. Their tranquility is interrupted however by the arrival of new neighbors, another set of Jones, who have moved in next door. They are much younger and a little too eager to make friends. John and Pony, the new couple, seem awkward and ill at ease. But as time passes, a casual relationship develops between the two families. We witness them attending to mundane activities – fixing a lamp, shopping, working on a ship in a bottle. But there are hints along the way that all is not as well as they would all like it to be.
The revelation of why John and Pony moved to this small town makes a difference and adds yet another facet to their relationship. Suddenly we are watching people who could be us dealing with difficult times as well as they can. The language between all of them never reaches the point of polite civility; they are all blessed (?) with a blunt honesty and an awkward form of expression. Eno’s characters seem to live more in their minds rather than in anything we witness, making their inner conversations difficult to follow. The Guy in WAKEY WAKEY faces the inevitable with a somewhat positive attitude, memories of the amazing events of normal existence, and doles out advice culled from a well lived life. Tom and John in REALISTIC JONES deal with their own difficulties in their own ways, tempering the sadness with a knowledge that they are lucky to have what they do have.
Please forgive the obscurity of this description, but this is a play to which everyone will have a different reaction . . . more than usual. This sounds like it would be a difficult play to watch, but it isn’t. Each of the character’s blunt honesty adds an awkwardness to their conversations that, as an audience member, you can’t help but laugh. It might be a nervous laugh, a “why did he say that?” kind of laugh, but a chuckle nevertheless. There are some surprises along the way, but a final scene allows them to end as they started, enjoying a summer’s evening under the stars with a realization that these mundane moments of no consequence are some of the most precious.
As usual, BETC attracts the best from the acting pool. In this case, Michael Morgan plays Bob with an impatient, slightly depressed, sardonic wit that is both off-putting and endearing. Emily Paton Davies as Jennifer, his wife, is the long suffering, exhausted emotionally caregiver. Her love is being stretched to the breaking point by her husband’s casual attitude to treatment. Casey Andree nails the mysterious John whose secrets are gradually revealed and begin to explain his odd behavior toward his neighbors and his wife. Pony, played by Kate Parkin, is like a 70’s flower child in her innocence and manner. She knows something is wrong and prays to a God she doesn’t believe in to save her from it.
Also as usual, the physical space in which the play is performed is cut to the bone minimalist with just the bare necessities to suggest the back yard of the older Jones’ house, the kitchen of the younger Joneses and the cut-aways to smaller scenes in stores, etc. as needed. The lighting design by Sean Mallory always seemed to suggest something lurking just outside the perimeter of our eyesight, just over the fence. The sound design by Lindsey Wagner featured xylophone music of various moods that led us into the following scene.
This is one worth pondering. I hope more theatres become interested in presenting more of Mr. Eno’s work; he has a unique voice.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!