Reviewed by James Karas
Harold Pinter was once asked what his plays were about and he gave the pithy and unhelpful reply of "the weasel under the cocktail cabinet". That line came to mind while watching Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses now playing at the Tarragon Theatre.
I am afraid the famous reply did not spring to mind because of any inspired analysis of the play but the appearance of a dead squirrel under the coffee table in one of the Jones couple’s backyard. When the hostess sees the dead squirrel, she grabs a spatula from the barbecue and loads it on it while her neighbour asks if she intends to flip it. A very funny line.
Jenny Young, Patrick McManus, Tom Barnett, Susan Coyne in The Realistic Joneses. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
The play opens in the backyard of Bob (Tom Barnett) and Jennifer (Susan Coyne) where the two are talking about talking and about paining the house. Between pauses and reactions to each other, they are very amusing and confusing. They are the Joneses.
John (Patrick McManus) and Pony (Jenny Young) pop in with a bottle of wine. They are Joneses too who rent a house down the street from Bob and Jennifer. It is the first time the two couples meet and the conversation continues in the same apparently banal but funny vein. The house that John and Pony are renting has an interesting history: someone lived there before. And look at those cute salt and pepper shakers.
The play moves form Bob and Jennifer’s yard to a supermarket to John and Pony’s kitchen a number of times. Charlotte Dean’s set design allows for quick scene changes with moveable panels. Well done.
You quickly realize that the Joneses are anything but “realistic.” They speak usually in short sentences with frequent pauses. There are non-sequitors, changes of subject and actions that make little sense. Nothing appears unusual but you know that nothing is happening on a particularly logical level. These people are nuts and yet they are completely normal. Well, they appear to be.
You can go to Pinter, to Samuel Becket, to Eugene Ionesco and find elements that may seem similar to what you are hearing in Eno’s play. But he has his own voice in presenting these (ab)normal couples somewhere in rural America. They touch on illnesses, mental and physical, real or imagined. They hint of infidelity and they speak in sensible, logical words that at close look are neither.
Director Richard Rose handles Eno’s intricate play with precision and sensitivity. In Barnett, Coyne, McManus and Young he has a cast that can handle the tricky dialogue and make it seem completely natural. The quick turns, the pauses, the constant subtle changes in tone and all the zigzags of the script, test the mettle of the director and the actors and they are all do a first-rate job.
You will get a few laughs, admire the performances and may come out scratching your head but you will get your money’s worth.
The Realistic Jones by Will Eno continues until December 18, 2016 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com