The first time I saw a play by Will Eno was about 15 years ago, by Circle X Theatre Company of The Flu Season. It was an excellent production in many ways, but there was one scene in which a character died, and instead of having the character stay prone, the actor got up, walked into the audience and exited the theater. It was a surprising and effective moment – that character was really gone in such an abrupt way that I felt the loss– and it made me take note of the playwright. He’s much more widely known now, and has been nominated for – or won – many awards, so it’s a bit surprising that his 2014 play The Realistic Joneses has taken so long to get a Southern California premiere. Thankfully, now it has in a terrific production currently at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura (it will be staged at the Laguna Playhouse in late April), featuring a quartet of actors so good it’d be hard to imagine a better cast.
Married couple Bob (Joe Spano) and Jennifer (Sorcha Fox) are sitting one evening in the backyard of their home, drinking and talking, when they are unexpectedly joined by John (Conor Lovett) and Pony (Faline England), a somewhat younger married couple who’ve just moved into the neighborhood. Bob isn’t thrilled at the intrusion, but Jennifer tries to be sociable, and as weeks go by the two couples become friendly. They even turn out to have more than one thing in common – their surnames are both Jones, and both husbands have the same degenerative nerve disease. They may have more in common still as Bob and John each grow close to the other man’s wife.
Spano does a nice job differentiating the Bob who’s suffering confusion and loss of language from the nerve disease with the inner Bob, who’s frustrated and trying to hold onto his sense of autonomy over his life. Fox is quite good as the seemingly long-suffering Jennifer, who accepts the weird new neighbors and finds some welcome attention from John. England excels as the flighty Pony, getting past the character’s self-centered nature to the person trying to be more caring within. Lovett seems extremely comfortable with Eno’s non sequiturs and deadpan wit and is very funny, but he also captures the fears underneath John’s cool façade.
Director Judy Hegarty-Lovett gets strong work from every member of her cast, and her staging of a scene in a dark house creates an evocative, morally gray ambience. Eno’s love of wordplay and literal meanings in dialogue are witty (Pony mentions that the schools in the area are supposed to be good, Jennifer – “Oh, do you have children?”, Pony – “No, John just hates stupid children.”) but the prevalence of such humor in the play may not be to all tastes. Also, at two hours the show does feel a bit overextended. That said, I enjoyed this show quite a bit, and I’d recommend it to any fans of Eno’s work or anybody looking for something clever and unique.
The Realistic Joneses is presented by Gare St. Lazare Ireland, Rubicon Theatre Company and The Laguna Playhouse at the Rubicon Theatre and plays through February 12, 2023.
Tickets are available at www.rubicontheatre.org