By Ruth Ross
That two couples with the surname Jones live next door to each other is not the strangest thing about The Realistic Joneses, Will Eno’s surrealistic comic drama now receiving its New Jersey premiere at Alliance Rep in Summit. For nearly two and a half hours, herky-jerky conversation almost completely comprised of non sequiturs will keep your head spinning as you try to make sense of it all. Fortunately, Director Michael Driscoll has assembled a talented quartet of actors to deliver this odd dialogue and convey the play’s theme: the ultimate loneliness affecting everyone, especially that experienced by coping with terminal illness on the part of both caretaker and patient.
Given the lack of coherent dialogue in The Realistic Joneses, it’s no surprise that very little happens. It seems that the garrulous younger couple has just moved into the house next door to their older, more laconic, neighbors. Some questions arise early. Why have John and Pony recently moved to this rural town not far from the mountains? Why do Bob and Jennifer seem to have so much time on their hands? Do any of the four work? If not, why?
As the four get to know each other, intimate details and secrets are revealed, bit by bit. Pony and John have moved ostensibly because she always wanted to live there, so he obliged her desires. Bob is suffering from a degenerative disease, but he wants to know nothing about his condition (nor does he want to talk about it), leaving Jennifer to manage his health problems all alone. Both men experienced a bout of unexplained cortical blindness. The doctor who discovered Bob’s disease practices in this town. It all sounds (and feels) very confusing, but then again, playwright Eno isn’t known for lucid plotting. That Pony and John talk incessantly, mostly about nothing or in non sequiturs, becomes very tiresome after awhile; the looong silences in Bob and Jen’s conversations are so annoying that one wants to tell them to “say something, already”!
On a spare set decorated with a table, bench, some beach chairs and a lamp, Driscoll directs his actors to perform as though what they are saying makes perfect sense, and it works. John A.C. Kennedy(right, with MacMillan) is excellentas Bob, a difficult role that calls for him to express his anguish in silences more than words. His lack of interest in his condition is maddening; he even wants his wife to be scared for him. Of the four, Lauri MacMillan’s Jennifer is the only one to speak in full sentences. Her hunger for Bob’s companionship and his lack of sympathy for her burden are the saddest things in the play. It’s heartbreaking just to listen to her talk to John about her plight, only to have his spout inanities.
As John, Erik Gaden (left, with Marques) is terrific. His delivery of incomplete and nonsensical sentences makes it hard to feel sympathy for a character who really deserves it (no spoilers!). He’s not only very talkative but loud, too, and his wild-looking eyes hint at mental instability. As Pony, an animated Lili Marques is loud too and talks with her hands. She, too, utters inappropriate statements: “I don’t know whether to go to med school or get a haircut” is just one. One wonders what brought these two together and how long their relationship will last. They talk past each other, nonstop.
This was the first Will Eno play I’ve seen, so I had no idea of what to expect (I do no research before coming to review). I really had to go home and think about The Realistic Joneses before I could even organize my thoughts to write. The title, of course, is ironic; the only realistic Jones is Jennifer. The other three are off in La La Land. But ultimately, each operates in his or her own separate universe, unable to talk to anyone about hopes and fears, unable to share experiences good or bad. Solitary. Lonely. Clueless. Sad. Maybe it’s something we can all relate to in this age of handheld “communication” devices; one doesn’t have to be terminally ill to feel lonely.
In The Realistic Joneses, the existential threat isn’t physical death. It’s the death of a marriage, the death of a relationship, the death of friendship, the death of trust, the victory of fear and longing for human connection during the worst of times. And that is worst of all.
The Realistic Joneses will run through July 29 in the little black box theater in the lower level of Mondo, 426 Springfield Ave., Summit. For performance times and tickets, call the box office at 908.472.1502.