The Realistic Joneses Apr23

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The Realistic Joneses

We Get a Dose of Reality Keeping Up with These Joneses

Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei. Photo: Joan Marcus

Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei.
Photo: Joan Marcus

Keeping up with the Joneses in Will Eno’s The Realistic Jonses might prove a little more difficult than you think. The story is about everything – and nothing – just like the dialogue, but sooner or later you recognize a character you know, or perhaps yourself, and suddenly the seemingly pointless conversation hits home like it was fired at a bullseye.

It’s a witty exploration of conversations comprised mostly of thoughts you would have during conversations, but which you never would say out loud. But imagine if you did. It would be really funny, if awkward. Sort of like this play.

Sam Gold, who helmed the world premiere at Yale Rep in 2012, directs. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts (August Osage County) reprises his role from the Yale production, but the other characters are newly cast for Broadway.

The older Joneses are Bob (Letts) and his wife, Jennifer (the always fabulous Toni Colette (“The United States of Tara,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Little Miss Sunshine”). The younger couple with the same surname are John and Pony (Michael C. Hall — “Dexter,” Chicago and Marisa Tomei — “My Cousin Vinny”) who have just moved in next door in the suburban neighborhood somewhere in the USA.

Jennifer struggles to care for Bob as a rare degenerative disease attacks the areas of his brain that control language and memory. It’s a good thing this long-married couple can complete each other’s thoughts and sentences. Or can they? And if they can, do they want to any more?

Jennifer apologizes for blurting out her concerns about Bob’s declining health to her new acquaintances.

“That’s what separates us from the animals,” John consoles her. “You never hear animals blurting things out. Unless they’re being run over by a car or something.”

At first it doesn’t seem like the older couple has much in common with their apparently less intelligent neighbors except a moniker, but after a few chance encounters, it becomes clear that they do – practically as John may have the same illness as Bob and emotionally as the couples turn to each other for comfort and hope. The scenes (designed by David Zinn) play out in a backyard setting that doubles for other locations.

Eno’s script is a mind-muscle-tightening, word workout that is funny and thought-provoking. It needs a strong gel among the performers to pull it off, however, and what Gold achieved at Yale is somewhat lacking here. We don’t get a sense of the “developed-over-many-years” camaraderie between Bob and Jennifer or the attraction between her and John. Tomei plays Pony as an innocent — accepting of everything — which negates the opportunity to explore the many layers waiting for the character in the script’s pages and allows John to be much more likable than he should be.

Instead of the audience shaking their heads “yes” with nods of understanding and satisfaction (like we did at Yale), I think this production probably has more people shaking their heads “no” and asking, “What was that about?” It’s too bad, because it’s a meaty play with lots to offer about how we deal with each other and with the hardest times life has to offer.

The Realistic Joneses runs through July 6 at The Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., NYC. http://therealisticjoneses.com/.

This show contains:
— Language
— Adult situations

Lauren Yarger is a member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle and The American Theater Critics Association.