BWW Review: Funny, Throught-provoking THE REALISTIC JONESES at Dobama

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle

What do Tracy Letts (SUPERIOR DONUTS), Yasmina Reza (GOD OF CARNAGE), Amy Herzog (4000 MILES), and David Adjmi (MARIE ANTOINETTE) have in common. Their names all appear on the best new contemporary playwrights' lists. Many also are names which, if you have been to Dobama during the past couple of years, you have seen their plays produced.

Will Eno, author of THE OPEN HOUSE, which won the 2014 Obie Award for Playwriting, and THE REALISTIC JONSES, which received a 2014 Drama Desk Special Award, also appears on those "best" lists. His JONESES is now being staged at Dobama.

Eno tends to write characters, not plots. His works are an actor's dream. He etches clear characters who speak both their conscious and unconscious ideas. They don't have the traditional strainers that most of people have been taught to apply. His characters deliver lines like a top notch baseball pitcher throwing curve balls that surprise and have the batter swing and miss, and in Eno's plays, the characters are basically unnerved with no logical comeback and just accept what is said as is.

An example of Eno's dialogue takes place when Bob wanders into his neighbor's home in the middle of the night. John, the neighbor, catches him there. In most plays, or in life, the home owner would call the police, and try to defend his territory with a baseball bat or gun. Here? The "guys" chitchat, contemplate the night sky, and when John looks up in Bob's direction, the latter says, "No, I'm looking at this part, you look over there."

Eno's people don't seem to know about not being blunt, not hurting someone else's feeling, and the necessity to apply rules concerning political/ethnic correctness. Whatever pops into their minds, they say. Not quite the level of someone with Torrette Syndrome, but darn close. Random things just come out of a character's mouth. Many are hysterically funny. Others are profound.

That is not to say Eno's plays are filled with swearing and insults. They aren't. But they are filled with honesty, bluntness and "this is the way I see it" statements. They are also quirky and filled with morality, sadness and humor.

THE REALISTIC JONESES was commission by Yale Repertory Theater. After being staged at that venue, it opened on Broadway in 2014.

When the play opens, Bob Jones and his wife, Jennifer, are sitting in their tree-filled backyard. A garbage can is knocked over off-stage. A raccoon? No. Their new next door neighbors, John and Pony Jones are coming for a visit. We gain some information about both couples, but there appear to be issues below the surface. What is the truth? What are the secrets?

Through a series of "skits" which take place in such settings as a supermarket, the couples' homes and backyards, we learn of the loneliness, sadness, joys, illnesses and past histories of both couples.

The script does not have a traditional format. There is no beginning, middle and ending here. The ideas flow, the format is irrelevant, and there is no ending, per se. No conclusion that ties up all the loose ends. The speeches and actions are all left frayed, for each person to carry out of the theatre to weave an ending, if one is needed.

Director Shannon Sindelar, who directed Dobama's much acclaimed OR, KIN and THE NORWEIGIANS, has again created an audience-appealing, well paced and staged show.

Chris Richards (BFA-Kent State) displays charm and wit as John, a twenty-something, who has a secret to hide. He nicely textures the characterization and displays a fine sense of comic timing and a mobile face that both telegraphs and hides thoughts and emotions.

Joel Hammer (BFA-OSU), a former artistic director at Dobama, clearly creates Bob as a man who faces his incurable degenerative disease by alternately pretending that "all is well" and then "kind of" facing reality.

As always, Tracee Patterson (MFA-Kent State), is spot-on in her character development. The Cleveland Critic Circle and Times Theatre Awards Best Actress recipient, reflects compassion, empathy and frustration as Jennifer Jones, a woman dealing with an ill husband who wants to be both "babied" and left alone. This is another fine performance.

Though she is sometimes a little hard to hear, Rachel Zake clearly develops Rachel, John's ditzy and vulnerable wife.

Laura Carlson Tarantowski's multi-purpose set generally works well. Her creating fissions in the ground, which continue up the soaring backdrop, much like the characters, are split and in danger of disintegrating. Jeremy Dobbins nature sound effects, and Marcus Dana's lighting, including a low level fireworks show, help enhance the action.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE REALISTIC JONESES is one of those scripts that, with poor direction and acting could be a disaster. Fortunately, under the adept directing of Shannon Sindelar and stellar performances by Chris Richard, Joel Hammer, Tracee Patterson and Rachel Zake, the Dobama production is an absolute must see!

THE REALISTIC JONESES runs through February 14, 2016 at Dobama Theatre. Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Dobama's next show is actor Jesse Eisenberg's THE REVISIONIST, starring Cleveland legend Dorothy Silver, who will be reviving the role she played in a staged reading of the script last year by Interplay Jewish Theatre. It runs from March 4-April 3, 2016. Tickets for the show are selling quickly. If you intend to attend, call for seats now.

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From This Author Roy Berko