Playwright Will Eno, a darling of Off-Broadway where they're not fussy about connecting the dramatic dots, manned up to Broadway April 6, settled snugly into the Lyceum with The Realistic Joneses and somehow stayed his old idiosyncratic self.
It's a definite case of stake-claiming by the heretofore "downtown voice," who has a lot to say (if not necessarily in the conventional — in fact, very patience-trying — way).
The evening is 90 minutes of small talk — writ large by a classy, committed, name-brand cast and Sam Gold, a director worth his weight in — and it's delivered by four of Eno's usual off-centered eccentrics, in this case two sets of next-door-neighbors both named Jones and living in "a smallish town not far from some mountains."
The exchanges — between neighbor and neighbor, much as between husband and wife — are surprisingly intimate and edgy, frequently funny and they grow progressively darker and deeper as the play winds its way to the finish line.
What's in this name? The older couple is Bob Jones (not the prophetic minister or his university) and Jennifer Jones (not St. Bernadette, though, as caretaker of the group and the most grounded person around, she does "suffer enough for the heaven of heavens"). The younger couple is John Jones and Pony Jones. That's right, Pony.
Because there is an older-versus-younger equation and because there is a little cross-coupling on the side, it's easy to think The Realistic Joneses are related to Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — a passing thought seconded by the towering, growling performance of Bob by Tracy Letts, in his first Broadway appearance since winning the Tony for the most recent revival of Virginia Woolf.
In truth, Eno seems to be echoing a later Albee opus, A Delicate Balance, in which an unspoken terror starts to infect the characters. Here, males in the area with the last name of Jones are susceptible to a mysterious neurological malady leading to death.
At the opening-night after-party held at The Redeye Grill, the playwright appreciated the Albee allusion. "There's a little joke at the beginning where Michael C. Hall says, 'Oh, the new neighbors move in. It's like the world's oldest profession — I mean, the greatest story ever told — I mean, the oldest.' I'm aware it's a convenient scheme for a play to take place with some neighbors in residence and some new neighbors move in. I hadn't thought of A Delicate Balance — but I love that play.
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