The Realistic Joneses
First, Eno's note on his text: "Run-on sentences punctuated with commas are meant to represent speech as it's generally spoken. These look ungrammatical but are entirely consistent with the way speech is spoken. There shouldn't be too many pauses or too much effort shown in changing the direction of the line, within the line, unless indicated." That summarizes a portion of Eno's intent and it is realized through the impressive and detailed Yale Rep production.
Sam Gold, directing, is fortunate to work with a quartet of actors who actualize Eno's purpose. Each speaks in fragments which actually do represent true-to-life conversation. Sometimes, but not always, this is quite profound.
The play opens at an outdoor table in the backyard home of Jennifer (Johanna Day) and Bob (Tracy Letts) Jones. It is night and we are somewhere on the edge of suburbia but close to mountains. Designer Ken Goodwin (throughout the evening) supplies perfectly complementary sounds. Soon enough, more Joneses arrive: John (Glenn Fitzgerald) and Pony (Parker Posey) who just moved in around the corner.
Each scene dissolves into the succeeding one through Lighting Designer Mark Barton's fades. The second situation, featuring John and Jennifer, occurs at a grocery store and the next (moving across the stage) at Pony and John's place (lacking furniture). John is trying to fix a lamp someone discarded. We later find that the other Joneses tossed that lamp away.
A portion of the plot focuses upon a disease both Bob and John have. Neither of the women is easy with the predicaments. Bob is not especially proactive when it comes to addressing his circumstance. John tries to more engaged as in the following exchange with Jennifer. She says, "So, you've started treatment?" John: "Actually, I guess you'd take the total number of people and divide it by the total number of diseases. But I'm not a mathematician. I don't think there's really a treatment, Jennifer." She responds, "Well, we can hope." John adds, "We can do a lot of things." She says, "So you're just going through all this alone?" He replies, "Listen, I'm a very spiritual man." Jennifer: "I'm sure you are." John: "I take it back, actually. I'm not that spiritual."
Eno, on a number of occasions, has his characters remarking and then immediately contradicting the first statement. People, in real life, are imperfect and inconsistent. Eno has that right.
Casting choices by director Gold and Casting Director Tara Rubin are spot on. The first Joneses appear older than the other pair. Day's Jennifer tries to be sensible. Letts is wry and sometimes sardonic. Fitzgerald, as John, seems almost boyish in comparison to Letts. John, too, is grappling with an unknown future and Fitzgerald wears this lack of ease upon him. Posey is simultaneously off-beat and concerned. She draws attention even if she never hogs the spotlight. Eno's script moves from actor to actor and places each in various combinations with one another.
Gold assembles the fragments and phrases while lending fluidity to the proceedings. One leaves the theater realizing that the characters are connected as is the theatergoer to them. Atypical theater, it might occur during many a day, month or year during the late twentieth or early twentieth century.
The Realistic Joneses runs at New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre through May 12th. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol