Saturday, October 1, 2016

"The Realistic Joneses" at Park Square Theatre

The Realistic Joneses is an odd little play. But I shouldn't be surprised; the other Will Eno play I've seen (Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Loudmouth Collective) is exceedingly odd. But odd in the best way. The Joneses is a little more, well, realistic, than the one-man show Thom Pain, with an actual plot and characters in conversation with each other. But I still don't understand everything that happened, and sometimes characters say things that don't make sense, and there's no resolution to the problems the characters are facing. But that's OK. I like theater that doesn't tie things up in a neat bow in the end, that's a little unexpected and even jarring. I'm happy to spend 90 minutes or so in this odd and sometimes uncomfortable world populated by odd and sometimes unlikeable people, beautifully brought to life by this fantastic four-person cast.

The Joneses of the title refers to two couples, neighbors, both named Jones. Bob (JC Cutler) and Jennifer (Angela Timberman) have lived in the neighborhood for years, and are going through a difficult time due to Bob's recent diagnosis with a rare illness. They're shaken out of their lives of doctor visits and medications when John (Eric "Pogi" Sumangil) and Pony (Jane Froiland) rent the house next door, seemingly on a whim. You've heard of "meet cute;" this is "meet awkward." The two couples don't really like each other at first. But they keep running into each other, and find that they have more in common than they thought. They find a reluctant connection with each other that eases the transition they're all going through.

The play is funny at times, and sad at times, and perplexing at times. I love awkwardness and silence in theater (maybe because there's so much of it in real life, it's refreshing to watch it play out on stage from the safety of my seat), and there's plenty of it here. The cast delivers on every word and pause in the script. JC is kind of heartbreaking as the man who doesn't want to face his illness, and isn't really quite sure what's happening to him. Angela is one of my favorite actors to watch in comedies and dramas, and especially in the mix of the two as this piece is; she can break my heart and crack me up at the same time. As Pony, Jane is adorable and awkward and flighty and annoying, not unlike a newborn pony. Pogi has most of the weird awkward nonsensical lines, and he pulls it off as the not-quite-all-there but well-meaning John. All of these characters are beautifully flawed humans, sometimes likeable, sometimes unlikeable, just like all of us.

the Joneses meet the Joneses (Angela Timberman,
JC Cutler, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil, and Jane Froiland,
photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)
Director and scenic designer Joel Sass has set the entire play on a green lawn, even though some scenes take place in a kitchen or a grocery store. Furniture is smoothly wheeled in and out during scene transitions accompanied by appropriate mood music (here's a thought - I'd love for theaters to print song lists in their programs). The green grass gives an almost surreal feeling to the indoor scenes, while the outdoor scenes feel naturalistic and comforting. The effect of dozens of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, representing stars in the night sky, is quite lovely (lighting design by Michael P. Kittel).

The Realistic Joneses continues through October 16. If you like your theater funny, weird, moving, and perplexing, this is the show for you. I'll leave you with this quote from New York Times review of the 2014 Broadway production that perfectly encapsulates the beauty of this play:
Plays as funny and moving, as wonderful and weird as “The Realistic Joneses,” by Will Eno, do not appear often on Broadway. Or ever, really. You’re as likely to see a tumbleweed lolloping across 42nd Street as you are to see something as daring as Mr. Eno’s meditation on the confounding business of being alive (or not) sprouting where only repurposed movies, plays by dead people and blaring musicals tend to thrive.

This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.