Monday, 1 May 2017

The Realistic Joneses, April 30, 2017 *** 1/2

By Will Eno, by Red Stitch Actors Theatre 
Red Stitch Actors Theatre, until May 28, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Monday May 1, 2017 and later in print. KH
Neil Pigot & Sarah Sutherland - photo credit Teresa Noble Photo

The characters and experiences are simultaneously achingly familiar and strangely alien in Will Eno’s eccentric play, The Realistic Joneses.

An older, married couple, Bob (Neil Pigot) and Jennifer Jones (Sarah Sutherland) live in an American mountain town and, one night, their new, younger neighbours, John (Justin Hoskin) and Pony (Ella Caldwell) Jones, drop by to greet them, with a clatter of rubbish bins and a bottle of wine.

Their shared surname and Pony’s odd first name are not the only unusual things about this young couple, as Bob and Jennifer discover in each ensuing and intermittent meeting, whether it be a chance encounter or a planned get-together.

Eno’s well-crafted play is a series of short scenes between the various characters, starting with the recognisably awkward interactions of strangers, then slowly transforming as these four, lonely and troubled characters unveil their intimate secrets and reveal their darkest fears to each other.

Julian Meyrick’s assured direction focuses on the evolving relationships and balances comedy with poignancy.

Pigot is compelling as the ailing, ageing and blunt Bob, and he projects a moving frailty, vulnerability and childlikeness as Bob struggles to organise and communicate his befuddled thoughts.

In a nuanced performance, Sutherland captures Bob’s beleaguered wife Jennifer’s painful sense of loneliness and loss as she wrestles with the frustrating day-to-day reality of Bob’s failing health.

Hoskin portrays John initially as an oddball who converses in an annoying series of quips and non-sequiturs, then deftly transforms John into a frightened man who begins to open his heart, first to Jennifer, then Bob and, finally – maybe – to his wife, Pony.

Caldwell balances Pony’s bizarre behaviour with a sensitive depiction of her as a nervy child-woman who does not understand her own thoughts and fears or even the world around her.

Despite the title of the play, these two Jones couples struggle with reality, and Eno’s narrative and style straddle a peculiar line between realism and the absurd, or existential philosophy and wacky situation comedy.

All the characters seem sadly isolated in their marriages and in their neighbourhood, frightened by their circumstances or bemused by their fates.

However, Eno’s play is not fatalistic or depressing but, rather, it is thoughtful and, by its end, almost Buddhist in the way it encourages both characters and audience to accept their lives and their partners as they are, not as they want them to be.

The Realistic Joneses is gentle and offbeat storytelling by a clever, dramatic craftsman.

By Kate Herbert

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