The marriage of Hyde Park Theatre and the work of Will Eno is a marriage made in heaven. The deceptively deep, darkly comic plays that Eno writes are the perfect fit for a theatre like Ken Webster’s, as they’re the kind of offbeat contemporary comedies that have been their bread and butter for years. With their latest, Eno’s intriguing look at suburban life, “The Realistic Joneses” Hyde Park has created their most interesting production in ages, bringing some of their best of their performers together to form a rock-solid ensemble, that shape this play into something that nearly reaches theatrical nirvana.
“The Realistic Joneses” kicks off like so many other plays. Bob and and Jennifer Jones are relaxing in their backyard when they’re introduced to their new neighbors, Pony and John Jones. From the very first moment, we all know that these two are a bit off, shown through their lack of social skills and their bizarre methods of communications. As the play progresses, and we get to know these characters more, we slowly start to see the chasm between the bizarre and commonplace slowly start to close, as these four characters begin to intertwine themselves in more and more compromising ways.
Will Eno’s writing can be difficult to perform. It’s particular and precise, and in the wrong hands, it can become confusing, even nonsensical. An actor must not only find the emotional connection with the text, but also garner a healthy chemistry with his or her fellow actors, to make sure that they create the right cadence and rhythm. Fortunately, director Ken Webster and the folks at Hyde Park Theatre have a history of finding just the right actors for their roles, culling from from both their own stable of talent and from across the city. Here they have selected a solid quartet to play off each another in orchestral perfection.
Few actresses seem to fit Will Eno’s writing style better than Jess Hughes. Her particular brand of slanted and offbeat acting is a perfect fit for the nuanced, peculiar dialog that Will Eno gives her character, Pony. Her odd mannerisms and facial expressions only helps to inject an element of otherworldlyness to the character. She never loses grasp of the reality of her character, however, as the character never veers too far off into the fantastical.
As has been proven in many previous plays, Jess Hughes is at her best when playing off Ken Webster who here plays the genial, but ailing, Bob. Her peculiarity joins well with Webster’s everyman charisma, highlighting the strange elements of her performance. Webster also finds a fine balance between himself and Benjamin Summers, who plays John, whose lackadaisical anti-social nature works as the perfect counterbalance, the perfect anti-Bob, and it makes those rare moments where the two find, or at least attempt to find, a common ground all the more powerful.
The beating of the heart of the piece, however, is Rebecca Robinson as Jennifer Jones. While so much strangeness and sickness swirl around her, Robinson shows her true talent for emotional expression, helping us to sympathize with these, at times, strange characters with whom she shares the stage. Her scenes with Webster’s Bob are a delight, acting as seas of calm and normality in the often unusual goings-on of the work, and when things become fraught between the couple, we get some of the most heartfelt and honest moments of the entire piece, thanks in no small part to the emotional honesty that Robinson exudes so expertly.
As difficult as “The Realistic Joneses” may be to perform, it can also be challenging to watch, with an ending in particular that could leave some audience members scratching their heads. Things happen subtly, and the action comes on slowly, making this one for those seeking something a little more intellectual to sink their teeth in to. What Will Eno strived to tell us about our culture on a macro-level in “Middletown” is here narrowed to the micro-level, showing us certain painful honesties about how we interact with each other. It may seem like a simple narrative on the surface, but there are true depths to be explored here, and few other companies could plumb them so successfully.
“The Realistic Joneses” is playing at Hyde Park Theatre through March 26th. For more information, to purchase tickets, visit hydeparktheatre.org.
Photo Courtesy of Hyde Park Theatre