This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

5May/14

THE REALISTIC JONESES

(photo by Joan Marcus)

John Jones (Michael C. Hall) says farewell to a dead squirrel as Jennifer (Toni Collette) and Bob Jones (Tracy Letts) look on (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Through July 13, $29- $135
www.therealisticjoneses.com

In his first Broadway play, The Realistic Joneses, Will Eno is as much choreographer as writer, his words twirling, spinning, lifting, throwing, bouncing, and ricocheting among the four characters, performing an intoxicating dance of language. As in his previous two works, Title and Deed and The Open House, a kind of existential absurdity hovers over the proceedings, which delve into the deeply psychological natures of home and family. The Joneses live a rather isolated life up in the mountains, Bob (Tracy Letts) a curmudgeon suffering from a mysterious disease, Jennifer (Toni Collette) taking care of him while trying to deal with his sudden mood shifts. Their peaceful tranquility is somewhat shattered when a cheerful, energetic couple also named the Joneses move into the house down the way, John (Michael C. Hall) a repairman, Pony (Marisa Tomei) a sort of ditzy ingénue. Over the course of a few days, the four characters interact in different groupings, sharing their views on love and marriage, home and health while debating the meaning of language and communication in general and certain words and phrases specifically. “Nature was definitely one of the big selling points of here. Plus, the school system’s supposed to be good,” Pony says. “Oh, do you have kids?” Jennifer asks. “No, it’s just that John hates stupid children,” Pony responds. “We communicate pretty well, even without words,” Jennifer says about Bob, then later tells John, “I think you have a nice way with words.”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Pony (Marisa Tomei) and John Jones (Michael C. Hall) are looking forward to a new life in the mountains, but little do they know what awaits them (photo by Joan Marcus)

Eno, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for 2004’s Thom Pain (based on nothing), stealthily riffs on the old saw “keeping up with the Joneses” by equating the two couples in clever, understated ways, tantalizingly making one wonder whether they are actually different manifestations or younger and older versions of the same people. (Even though John and Pony appear more youthful than Bob and Jennifer, all four actors are in their forties, Tomei eight years older than Collette, Letts five years senior to Hall.) “We’re not so different, you and me,” John says to Bob, who responds, “I think we’re probably very different,” to which John adds, “Yeah, me too, actually.” And later, Pony tells John, “I don’t want to turn into those guys, next door.” Director Sam Gold (Fun Home, Seminar, Picnic) maintains a quick pace throughout the play’s fast-moving ninety minutes, another Eno specialty, with most scenes working well, although a meeting between John and Jennifer at the local market feels unsure of itself and falls flat. Otherwise, The Realistic Joneses is a smart, engaging comedy boasting an outstanding cast having a whole lot of deliciously infectious fun with the crazy English language.