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Pictured (left to right): Joseph Wiens, Cortney McKenna, H.B. Ward
By Sheri Flanders
The unremarkable is hilarious in The Realistic Joneses, a peculiar show that is a co-production between Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit. Written by Will Eno and directed by Jeremy Wechsler, the story unfolds slowly in a sleepy little town. Bob and Jennifer Jones receive an impromptu visit from John and Pony Jones, and initially – well – not much happens.
The appeal of this play is built around stylized purposefully choppy dialogue filled with non-sequiturs and thoughts that are abruptly abandoned or contradicted, often to hilarious effect. Joseph Wiens flits about like a butterfly as John, a free spirit giving in to every whim and thought as soon as it enters his mind, and going on to the next one just as quickly. Cortney McKenna makes his perfect match as Pony, a sunny nervous wreck hiding from her life, yet occasionally breaking out of her shell despite herself.
Linda Reiter is the emotional core of the play, doing heavy lifting as Jennifer, a wife weathering one of life’s toughest spots: caretaking for an ill spouse. The Realistic Joneses is a meditation on emotional labor – H.B. Ward plays a solid man, thankful to have a spouse willing to carry that burden by giving up her career and identity, yet as Jennifer begins to crack under the stress, he is unable or willing to see it.
Pony serves as a counterpoint for Jennifer, and is a representation of a rarely examined trope of femininity: a sympathetic portrait of a flighty woman without the capacity for the emotional nurturing expected of her sex. Eno’s decision to allow John to indulge this characteristic, rather than revile it, takes The Realistic Joneses out of tired cliché and into bold, fresh territory.
When the fragility of one partner is the burden of another, and some burdens must be carried alone, the bonds that connect can begin to crumble. In illness, there is no villain, no culprit to pin the blame on. As both couples sit together on the back porch looking into the night, laughing at jokes that just don’t quite make sense, they continue to try to connect again and again, sparking, failing, and starting like an old motor, determined to keep turning the engine over until it gives up for good.