Boulevard’s ‘realistic joneses’ keeps up with playwright’s wordplay
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published on May 10, 2019
“The Realistic Joneses” presented by Boulevard Theatre is the second play written by Will Eno that I’ve seen in the last few months. And what I’ve learned is his style is unique. Unconventional, to be sure. It sort of reminds me of music without meter. Gregorian chant?
His style is flowing, quirky, short on structure, yet contemplative.
In “The Realistic Joneses,” Eno presents two couples with the last name of Jones: Bob (David Ferrie) and Jennifer (Sandra Hollander) and their new neighbors, John (Matt Specht) and Pony (Ericka Wade). They live in a lovely neighborhood next to the mountains, possibly in New Mexico. The play’s language is so interesting you almost wish there’d be a pause to appreciate it even more. But that doesn’t happen in real life. Yet, in the Theater of the Absurd, there are lots of non sequiturs that can be hilarious, sad, poignant.
Mark Bucher directs the show, which is presented as a concert reading. Eno is the perfect playwright for this format, as his dialogue is so rich. With David Flores serving as narrator, any actions that flesh out the scenes are easily imagined.
The five performers move the show at a crisp, yet natural, clip.
In the show, the two couples meet one evening and become friends. Jennifer subsequently runs into John, who works in heating and air conditioning, at the grocery store. He was supposed to do some work there, but he came a day too late. The two begin to confide in each other. The same goes for Bob and Pony, who share some intimate moments. Through their conversations we learn of all their fears; the men share the same debilitating illness. But there is lots of laughter, as the two couples bumble, sometimes comically, through their situations, each handling it in their own way.
Much of the dialogue seems like thoughts the character had not intended to say out loud. When John meets Jennifer in the store, he says, “You want this conversation to end, but I want it to keep going.”
Because the men are suffering from illness, they seem to reflect their blurry mental state, saying things just to add to the conversation.
In Eno’s hands, expressions we use every day take on whole new meanings. Like when Pony says, “Say no more,” Jennifer responds, “Oh, you’ve had experience with that?” and Pony then says, “No, I just didn’t want you to say anymore.” Or when Pony says, “The school system is good here,” Jennifer replies, “Oh, do you have children?” Pony tells her, “No, John hates stupid children.”
While Jennifer seems to be handling her life, Pony seems to be falling apart—scared, unsure. When John is up all night in the bathroom, she describes her confusion: “I feel I should go to med school, or get a haircut or something.”
Eno seems to hear the English language on a whole different level than most people, parsing sometimes into its most literal bits, or unique understandings as when Pony says, “I wish I would have worn a sweater. I’m not cold, I just wish I had worn a sweater.”
Even from the beginning we hear Bob and Jennifer arguing, with Jennifer providing that standard line of marital discord by saying, “We don’t talk,” to which Bob responds, “What are we doing now? Math?” Jen replies, “Just throwing words at each other.”
Sometimes that’s what Eno seems to be doing. But then he lands a punch, so we keep listening.
The four Joneses are well cast for these roles.
Hollander’s Jennifer is the most sensible of the bunch, almost like the straight man to the others, whose comments seem to sometimes comes out of left field. Considering their circumstances, it’s understandable. Hollander has a steady demeanor; her Jennifer is strong and sensible, someone the others can lean on.
Ferrie’s Bob handles his illness with denial, downplaying his symptoms (sometimes to Jennifer’s annoyance). He carries a sort of hangdog look as he deals with disease. Ferrie delivers his cranky character’s lines beautifully, like when he complains of the hot air balloons they see before going to the doctor: “Why do they have to have so much color?”
John is perhaps the most interesting character, given a whole host of funny lines that are rather sad when you realize how he’s trying to mask his illness, or just unable to articulate in a more conventional way.
When Bob rants, “There is so much crap in the world. So much crap and pain,” John responds, “I wish there were less words.”
Specht is so buoyant as John, giving his character lots to laugh at, as well as to empathize with. He delivers all his silly proclamations with the same weightiness, which gives his funny lines even more humor. When he says, “Ice cream is a dish best served cold,” Specht sounds like he’s an expert on a cooking show.
I really enjoyed Wade, who portrayed the scared and confused, yet good-hearted, Pony wonderfully. Her scenes with Specht are often tender. She tells him toward the end, “I want to solve things with you.” Yet she also has an effective way with a funny line.
Through all the double talk, non sequiturs and absurdity of Eno’s play, Bucher has guided this cast through an engaging look at couple communication – its pitfalls, importance and humor.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we say, just that we talk to one another.
If you go
Who: Boulevard Theatre
What: “The Realistic Joneses”
When: Through May 18
Where: Plymouth Church, 2717 E. Hampshire, Milwaukee