Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Realistic Joneses
Left Edge Theatre
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's review of Dead Man's Cell Phone and Patrick's reviews of Bamboozled, Office Hour and Weightless

Melissa Claire and Chris Ginesi
Photo by Argo Thompson
Two couples become neighbors in one of those little towns near the mountains, and they coincidentally share the same last name. Bob and Jennifer (Chris Schloemp and Melissa Claire) moved there a while ago, whereas John and Pony (Chris Ginesi and Paige Picard) have just arrived, eager to make the new place home and get acquainted with their neighbors. That, however, is just the surface in this recent work by Will Eno, being given an excellent, stylish production at Left Edge Theatre. Soon we're caught up in the intrigue of overlapping lives and desires, even as we chuckle at the witty dialogue and amusing situations. The play tackles questions of love and mortality and connection with a light touch, but is sure to continue surprising your thoughts long after.

Bob and Jennifer are enjoying a quiet evening in their yard, although not getting very far with their conversation—"It just seems like we don't talk," laments Jennifer, to which Bob replies, "What are we doing right now? Math?" Sudden rustling signals the arrival of John and Pony, bearing wine and jovial quips about their move-in next door. Apart from their last name, the four have little in common, and tend to talk at rather than with one another, the attempts to converse lurching along in non sequiturs.

When Bob goes indoors to get glasses, Jennifer reveals that they moved to this town in order for Bob to be near a doctor who is renowned for treating a rare, terminal disease. When she apologizes for simply blurting all that out, John says, "That's all right. That's what separates us from the animal. You never hear animals blurting things out. Unless they're being run over by a car or something." Pony points out and makes John perform his knack for saying quirky things that suddenly seem deep, or wise—although when he demonstrates, it's more cause for laughter rather than awe.

After that initial encounter, the play proceeds in numerous two-person scenes, mixing and matching the characters to witness their relationships or further attempts to connect. John and Jennifer strike up a touching closeness in the international foods section of the local supermarket. Bob and John bond in an uneasy male rivalry of sorts while gazing at a night sky. Pony and John seem resigned to a less-than-perfect marriage, while steadfastly clinging to each other in friendship. And so forth, with no real shattering revelations or dramatic action—just quiet conversations between ordinary people trying to live their lives, who are beginning to realize their own ordinariness and resolving to make the best of it after all.

In Eno's universe, this realization and their determination to live is in fact what makes them compelling and extraordinary. John's remark about what separates us from animals turns out to be prescient; all four have desires, aspirations, expectations of transcending the ordinary somehow—something animals do not dream about. Yet, those expectations may be dashed against the realities of their lives, their completely unremarkable life narratives. But therein lies the interesting conundrum—while it makes them "realistic," the choice to live, to carry on, is oddly ennobling.

The four actors of this lovable quartet are quite wonderful, each inhabiting and bringing to life very distinct and utterly believable characters. Claire and Schloemp have both the comfort and the unease of the long-marrieds, stuck in habit but also forced to deal with totally new and puzzling dynamics. Ginesi and Picard have the most off-the-wall dialogue, but carry it easily as they navigate a new, more sober understanding of their relationship. Ginesi's deadpan delivery of very funny repartee is sure to stay with you for a long time.

Argo Thompson's set design is a marvel of realism, and the fanciful, childish chalk drawings perhaps reflecting childish dreams of grown-up life. The simple but gorgeous backdrop is a terrific changing panorama of sky and mountains.The set is complemented by beautiful lighting by April George, and costumes by Sandra Ish help us to know the characters. Sound by Lindsay Jones gives us owls, crickets, fireworks, and a crackling radio, as well as excellent mood music. Thompson also directed, and makes the many duet scenes feel effortless as we dig deeper into the apparently mundane.

It's a little unconventional, a trifle wacky, and downright funny in a strange way; but the play will sneak past your funnybone and get under your skin and leave you pondering the mysteries of our ordinary and extraordinary lives.

The theatre on a recent matinee was less than half full. My hope is that Sonoma County residents who haven't yet discovered the fine, intimate theatre being offered at this relatively new venue will turn out to see what the fuss is about. This would be a good show for making that discovery.

The Realistic Joneses, through March 25, 2018, by Left Edge Theatre, at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa CA. Tickets $25.00-$40.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 707-546-3600.

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