Theater Review: THE REALISTIC JONESES (Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 22, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Is it smoke and mirrors or a trick of the light? No matter — the fact that nothing urgent is at stake in the 100 minutes of Will Leno’s The Realistic Joneses is not beside the point: It is the point. Next-door neighbors in a cookie-cutter suburb, four married characters — all generically named Jones — are all, despite their different generations, cut from the same cloth: They make themselves up as they go along and all but disappear when they don’t speak. Mired in mid-life malaise, they’re mayflies caught in the moment. As one says (but it could be any of these interchangeable partners), “I never know what’s about to happen.”

Jeremy Wechsler’s properly passive-aggressive Chicago premiere of this 2014 one-act, a co-production of Shattered Globe Theater and Theater Wit, features Cortney McKenna, Linda Reiter (mumbling and failing to project), HB Ward and Joseph Wiens as discontinuous beings who can only agree that “Feelings are for being hurt.” Stumbling from one uncertainty to another, the husbands suffer from vague diseases, while the wives contend with the “kind of a mess” created by these damaged goods.

Their dialogue, sometimes silly-quirky and maddeningly circular, is an almost vaudevillian recitation of non sequitur after non sequitur; free-associative, small-to-invisible talk; furtive cries for help; tautological inanities; and sudden contradictions that expose their tentative efforts at sincerity. Collectively these idiosyncrasies convey the flippant desperation and dissociative drift of four lost souls.

It’s useless for a play where nothing happens to need a synopsis that implies otherwise. Their jobs — heating and air conditioning, greeting-card management, homemaking, whatever — do not define or distinguish them. Like everything here, their work and play remain contagiously arbitrary.

What feels strangely moving here is the Joneses’ scary awareness of how little they are before the immensity of the world around them.  Some stuff seems easily amazing: a “pretty night”; a sky full of stars; a village fair; a ship in a bottle; a dead squirrel; a kitchen prayer; noisy garbage cans; impromptu fireworks; or a gift certificate for an evening out. Afraid to touch but desperate for contact, their half-hearted intimacies are as poignant as their sporadic thoughts about some thwarted destiny that might have altered everything. Sometimes they hurt each other just to test how much they’re here.

Immersing this quartet in an amalgam of weird melancholy and surreal loneliness, Eno indulges in sketchy, “dead-end” scenes that fade out fast. Presumably, the playwright wants to provide an “inside look at the people who live next door, the truths we think we know and the secrets we never imagined we all might share.” Eager for whatever passing epiphany can make sense of the sameness of their lives, they’ve got just enough self-awareness to know what’s missing. But that’s a curse when they lack the resilience or imagination to remedy the shortfalls.

No question, what we see is what Eno means. Whether you find it tedious or truthful, irritating or insightful, depends on your tolerance for the work’s cunning contrasts, like the wild seascapes that surround set designer Jack Magaw’s very ordinary patio and bland interiors. However “realistic” these  clueless Joneses, their inconsequential incoherence is cunningly familiar.

photos by Evan Hanover

The Realistic Joneses
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3 (check for addt’l performances)
ends on March 9, 2019
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit Theater Wit

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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