Will Eno’s “Realistic Joneses” would seem to be an appropriate play for the B Street Theater’s “stage 3.” It’s a small play that makes minimal production demands, therefore suitable for the theater’s smaller stage and more intimate confines. Unfortunately, for us at least, the play is also small in terms of its entertainment value and its underlying message. The result, in spite of some fine acting from the four-member cast, was a production (it ended earlier this month) that was rather ho-hum.
The story concerns two married couples, both with the last name of Jones. Bob and Jennifer are introduced first. They appear to have been married for a while (in excess of 20 years). Bob is not well, suffering from a rare disease for which he is under the care of a medical specialist in the town where they reside. Bob may be described as moody and unemotional. He appears to be not particularly enthused about his life, but he also projects an air of stoicism that borders on nonchalance.
John and Pony are the other Jones couple. They are younger, perhaps even newlyweds (or close to it). They have come to the town because, as it turns out, John is also suffering from the rare disease that has afflicted Bob. John is a little nutty, and Pony is a bit flighty. They seem an ill-matched pair, but, then, so do Bob and Jennifer.
These four characters ultimately interact with each other with mildly interesting results, none of which appears to be particularly significant to any of them. Indeed, the four individuals seem, each in his or her own way, to be hard at work in denying the major significance of anything in any of their separate lives or in the intimate relationships the married partners have with each other.
In essence, that sense of forced ennui seems to be Mr. Eno’s message, if we interpret it correctly. The characters’ story never really goes anywhere, other than to a point of resignation to the reality of their collective existences. And the lack of any real drama makes the limited amount of wit contained within the dialogue seem unduly precious.
This harsh criticism of the play doesn’t detract from the heartfelt production of it that co-directors Buck Busfield and Lyndsay Burch presented. The single act moved along swiftly, with scene changes on the small stage often almost imperceptible. The set design, by Steven Schmidt and Sam Monrreal, was easily adapted to the backyard of Bob and Jennifer’s home and, later, to a grocery store where John and Jennifer meet. (Ron Madonia designed the lighting; Paulette Sand-Gilbert handled the costumes.)
The cast was strong. Dave Pierini was effective as Bob, giving a studied performance of a man who will not allow anything to disturb his downbeat view of his existence. Elisabeth Nunziato offered a good counter-balance in her portrayal of Jennifer, the good wife who is striving mightily to make things better for her husband and for their relationship.
John Lamb provided the most compelling and interesting performance, albeit his character is just plain strange (perhaps because of his illness?). And Dana Brooke handled the relatively thankless role of Pony well. Her Pony is a tad slow on the uptake, again, apparently as Mr. Eno intended her to be. Her character may be the most common of the four, and the easiest to dismiss, but Ms. Brooke kept her fresh nonetheless.
In notes provided in the printed program for this production, directors Busfield and Burch indicated that they deliberately kept movement/action to a minimum in the staging of the play’s various scenes, so as to allow full attention to be paid to Mr. Eno’s “linguistic brilliance.” Whether due to the directing or the writing, in this production, that brilliance was of limited appeal.