"It's two couples in a normal town, normal people in a somewhat strange situation that in fact reads to us as representative of what we all face," playwright Will Eno says. "It's a story of people doing what people do — you drive around and get groceries, and you do all this in the valley of the shadow of death. Really, you're just getting groceries. But really, you're also in the valley of the shadow of death."
Eno, 46, is talking about his new play, The Realistic Joneses, now premiering at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT. The director is Sam Gold ( Seminar, Circle Mirror Transformation). The Joneses are portrayed by Tracy Letts (author of August: Osage County), Johanna Day, Glenn Fitzgerald and Parker Posey.
Eno's plays include Middletown, a 2010 success at Manhattan's Vineyard Theatre; Thom Pain (based on nothing), a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; and Title and Deed, now being presented this month at Signature Theatre Company's new Manhattan complex.
In writing The Realistic Joneses, Eno says, "I had questions about the absolute fact of death looming there that we are very happy to ignore — how does that quietly and constantly make its pressure felt in our dealings with each other, in relationships and love and things like that?" That has been a topic for Eno in much of his work. In reviewing Middletown, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times wrote that "nestled amid all the homey detail is a prickly awareness of the awesome mystery of existence, the void whence everything came and into which it all may one day go."
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Eno says, "I think it's probably a weakness of me as a person that I tend to walk down the street on a beautiful sunny day, and I couldn't be happier, whistling a tune, and I think that it's such a strange thing to be alive, to have consciousness. It's a great and gorgeous thing. But there is something so pressingly unknowable about such huge parts of our experience.
"I wonder, I assume that everyone must have some little moment once in a while where they think what a strange thing this all is, that we have words and there didn't used to be words and somebody made up all these words and now they're pouring out of my mouth and I'm telling you what it's like inside me. And I'm probably not getting close to describing it, but close enough that you can hear it and have some other opinion and respond with how it is inside you."
Eno didn't come to theatre early. He was born in Massachusetts, 20 miles west of Boston, and until his early 20s focused on bike racing, making it to the national team. "Then I moped around and did house painting and construction for a good 10 years, mainly in New York." He studied fiction writing in his late 20s and wrote "a very short play that," he says, "I liked a little bit. I really got into theatre on the one hand very slowly and in a sideways way but in a sure way. Cautious but certain was my approach."
As a playwright, he says, "I always liked Thornton Wilder saying that the duty of the playwright was just to pose the question correctly. If I had to describe my little life project in one sentence, I would say it was, in writing a play, trying to see life more clearly for myself, and value life and value consciousness more clearly, and hope that excites in people or opens up in people the possibility of seeing and feeling and valuing life more."
Performances continue to May 12. Visit yalerep.org.