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BWW Review: THE REALISTIC JONESES at Spooky Action Theater


THE REALISTIC JONESES Kicks Off Spooky Action Theater's Reopening Season

BWW Review: THE REALISTIC JONESES at Spooky Action Theater

Returning to Spooky Action Theater to kick off their 2021 Reopening Season after its original run was cut short in March 2020, The Realistic Joneses is a touching and humorous examination of human mortality and the curious ways we can find hope--or, at the very least, a little bit of comfort--in one another.

Set in a small, unnamed town near the mountains, The Realistic Joneses opens with Bob Jones (Todd Scofield) and his wife Jennifer (Lisa Hodsoll) seated at a picnic table outside their home. The ivory trunks of birch trees tower around them, a lovely detail in an otherwise minimalist set. As Bob and Jennifer sit and attempt to chat, it quickly becomes clear that the couple is tiptoeing around something that neither of them knows how to appropriately address. That something is soon revealed to be Bob's recent diagnosis with Harriman Leavey syndrome, a degenerative nerve disease for which there is no cure.

Their conversation (if it can be called that) is soon interrupted by a young couple who has recently moved into a house down the street. From the first second of their introduction, it is clear that this young couple--the second pair of Joneses--poses a stark contrast to Bob and Jennifer: John (Dan Crane) and Pony Jones (Kimberly Gilbert) appear energetic, free-spirited, quirky, and very much in love.

The main delight of Drake's production of The Realistic Joneses can be found in how the actors choose to interact with and react to one another on stage. Eno's play is deeply interpersonal and meticulously scripted, down to the exact pauses within each line, making the actors' chemistry and the way their movements punctuate the quick-moving dialogue essential to the performance's success. Scofield, Hodsoll, and Crane certainly rise to the occasion, bringing a sense of careful intimacy and soulfulness to what could, in the hands of lesser actors, be a tedious show.

This is true of their performances from the very first scene. As John and Pony introduce themselves, their attraction to one another is clear: the two often stare lovingly into each others' eyes and can hardly seem to keep their hands to themselves. Bob and Jennifer, whose marriage is deteriorating alongside Bob's worsening health, appear stiff and self-conscious next to such displays of affection, and Jennifer soon rises to rest her hands on Bob's shoulders.

The rest of the performance continues with similar detail as the characters' individual journeys in confronting mortality become increasingly intertwined. The best scenes of the show were those between Jennifer and John for this very reason. An awkward encounter in a grocery store, under the command of Hodsoll and Crane, becomes a strange, funny, and wholesome moment between two strangers who find themselves inexplicably compelled to confide in one another.

This compulsion is underscored further when, a few scenes later, John finally reveals to Jennifer that he shares Bob's diagnosis. Given Pony's aversion to illness, Jennifer is the first person John has confided in. As John insists he can face the illness alone and Jennifer tries to comfort him, the two move closer together until John's head is resting on her shoulder. He then moves his head to rest on her lap, something she appears to be surprised and pleased by, right before he delivers one of the play's most devastating lines. It is a sad and intimate scene that perfectly illustrates the show's contemplation of the unexpected ways we can find solace in other people.

It's a shame, then, that a similar connection wasn't fostered between Bob and Pony. While the script certainly offers the opportunity, I found Gilbert's portrayal of Pony to be an unfortunate simplification of the character that favors the opportunity for humorous flightiness over substance, a choice that prevents Bob and Pony's storyline from achieving the same gravity as John and Jennifer's. Nonetheless, Drake's production is a faithful rendition of Eno's play, one that fully allows the characters to grapple with their respective trials while also indulging in the humor and wit the script offers.

The beauty of a theater like Spooky Action is that the unavoidable intimacy of its setting often works in its favor. The audience, sitting in this case in a small set of risers, is so close to the action of the play, the actors just out of reach, that it's easy to feel immersed. This is especially true during The Realistic Joneses' final scene. All four characters are seated on tree stumps directly before the audience, their eyes drifting up to the night sky. The two couples have just returned from dinner, during which they watched their futures play out before them in the public and gruesome death of Elliot Koford, another man suffering from Harriman Leavey syndrome. As the characters each contemplate the night's proceedings, their conversation as strange and funny and heartbreaking as ever, the audience is pulled in to do the same, and as the lights dim, we are left with our thoughts.

Photo Credit: Alec Wild

How To Get Tickets

The Realistic Joneses runs until October 24, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. For tickets, click here.

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