Knowing chuckles sputter throughout the audience during the world premiere of Will Eno's THE REALISTIC JONESES at Yale Rep. The story is about everything – and nothing – just like the dialogue, but sooner or later you recognize a character you know, or perhaps yourself, and suddenly the seemingly pointless conversation hits home like it was fired at a bullseye.
There are the older Joneses, Bob and Jennifer (August: Osage County Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright back on the stage and JohAnna Day) and the younger couple with the same surname, John and Pony (Glenn Fitzgerald and Parker Posey) who have just moved in next door in the suburban neighborhood somewhere in the USA. Jennifer struggles to care for Bob as a rare degenerative disease attacks the areas of his brain that control language. It's a good thing this long-married couple can complete each other's thoughts and sentences. Or can they?
Jennifer apologizes for blurting out her concerns about Bob's declining health to her new acquaintances. "That's what separates us from the animal," John consoles her. "You never hear animals blurting things out. Unless they're being run over by a car or something."
So at first it doesn't seem like the older couple has much in common with their apparently less intelligent neighbors except a moniker, but after a few chance encounters, it becomes clear that they do – practically as John May have the same illness, but particularly on an emotional level, where the slightest touch can bring comfort and hope. The scenes (designed by David Zinn, who also does the costumes) play out in a backyard setting that doubles for other locations. The fog that hangs heavily over the set is a harbinger of the doubt brought on by the uncertainty of life when one's thoughts can't be trusted.
Eno's script is mind-muscle-tightening word workout that is funny and thought-provoking. Sam Gold tightly directs strong, layered performances (all of them). Posey, however, stands out in bringing even deeper humor with her intonation and impeccable timing. She makes Pony's "prayer" for help, in part here, funny and moving on so many different levels:
"This feels weird. No offense. You probably just think I'm one of so many people. You're probably, like, my God, what is this even about? Maybe you're going to burn everything down, anyway. I don't know your crazy mind . . . I just thought I should try. Maybe this was stupid, Lord, but thank you. I hope there's an actual heaven."
One line, delivered by Fitzgerald, for example, gets a laugh, but has deeper meaning which causes the audience, after they reflect on it, to offer a second, more extended chuckle. Posey didn't miss a beat delivering her lines around the reaction to allow for the maximum amount of savor.
The house feels appropriately more intimate for this one, with Yale moving in the back wall of the house in several rows with a temporary barrier. It helps the effect when the lights go out – literally (design by Mark Barton) – symbolic of misfiring synapses.
THE REALISTIC JONESESruns through May 12 at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St. (at York Street), New Haven. Tickets range from $20 to $80 and are available at the box office, 203-432-1234 and at www.yalerep.org.
Lauren, a former newspaper editor, is the editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com) and Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com) where she reviews Broadway, Off-Broadway