BWW Review: THE REALISTIC JONESES at Spooky Action Theater
It may have been unrealistic to open a new play amid the virus pandemic, but "The Realistic Joneses" did just that on Saturday at Spooky Action Theatre, a group whose name inspires no further confidence (it's named after Einstein's term for quantum entanglement - the ability of separate objects to share a condition at a distance).
Still, artistic director Richard Heinrich pointed out that things like their fine production of Will Eno's award-winning 2012 play takes about a year in planning, months of rehearsals and lots of creative input; It wouldn't be complete without the audience.
So a group numbering less than the 50 (as the CDC suggested), but more than 10 (that the White House now says should be at a gathering), came to see the play opening night, which, yes, is a kind of wondrous portrayal of inarticulate modern life, with its deeper meanings hinted in the interactions of two couples living out in the woods.
Lisa Hodsoll and Todd Scofield play an older couple who have lived out this way for a while. We learn quite quickly that she, at least, is unhappy with their communication of late. "We don't talk?" "What are we doing now?" kind of thing.
Into this stalemate bounces a younger couple (Brandon McCoy and Amanda Forstrom) that's renting the empty place down the road. They're quite a puzzle and seemingly full of riddles. Or are they just dim?
Eno has a marvelous way of putting together fits and starts of conversations that should at once absurd but seem absolutely natural. Malapropisms abound, but also very sharply honed jokes. It would seem just odd if not for director Gillian Drake getting absolutely the most out of her cast.
Hodsoll, who was so good in "Laura Bush Killed a Guy" a few years back, tries hard to keep her marriage together but sometimes wanders through the grocery store to keep from weeping alone in her car. Scofield's character seems intractable and gruff (and instantly recognizable) at first, but is distracted somewhat by the newcomers; and his mood brightens accordingly with his medication.
McCoy seems like a wild card nobody can quite pin down, swinging from charming to annoying in the same conversation. Still, he is the show's philosopher. And Forstrom is quite a revelation as the young woman named Pony, who like Judy Holliday's characters, seems dim at first but may have her own plan all along. Or tough to figure altogether: "I should go to med school," she says at one point. "Or cut my hair."
Each is charged and fully cognizant of what they're doing; they all get it and are able to deliver delightfully to the audience (which, yes, did make a difference; action paused a couple times to accommodate peals of laughter that might not have been there during rehearsal).
Beneath the comic timing is a portrait of Americans who are adrift, from one another, their partners and maybe from themselves. There are illnesses, and a feeling of mortality that drifts by like the stars above them; there is a longing, too, that maybe their lives are not what they should have been.
The outdoorsy set by Giorgos Tsappas represents two tables - one a picnic table outside one couple's house; the other a kitchen table (that eventually replaces a cardboard box) in the home of the newcomers. Behind them is the expanse of a Blue Ridge Mountain-like horizon; the trunks of birches are all around them.
Alberto Segarra's lighting keeps the outdoor twinkle, with some notable flourishes for a backyard safety light and the faraway glow from fireworks. And Gordon Nimmo-Smith's sound has both the birds of outdoors and a strange tone that takes over when one character's illness kicks in.
Only when McCoy's character declares "The world is about to end," we are reminded of the unprecedented circumstances outside. Was all it worth going out in a pandemic? Yeah, maybe. (The show apparently closed following Sunday's performances, though you wouldn't know it from looking at their website).
Various versions of the old Billy Paul hit "Me and Mrs. Jones" play before the show; and Counting Crows' "Mr. Jones" is heard after its conclusion. But with all of the play's swet mystery and charm, I missed hearing Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," though, and its refrain: "Something is happening here but you don't know what it is / Do you Mr. Jones?"
Running time: One hour, 50 minutes. No intermission.
"The Realistic Joneses" was to have continued through April 5 at Spooky Action Theatre, operating at the Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th St NW, but apparently closed Sunday due to the virus pandemic. Information at 202-248-0301 or online.