Pizza & Plays : A Summer Reading Series | The Realistic Joneses Written by Will Eno

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The play premiered in 2012 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and moved to Broadway in 2014, with the cast of Tracy Letts as Bob, Toni Collette as Jennifer, Michael C. Hall as John, and Marisa Tomei as Pony.

It’s an old story, the new neighbors move in and turn out to be a lot more friendly than we expected, or maybe they share a lot more with us than we wanted them to share. In the world of “The Realistic Joneses” for instance, two couples might share the last name of Jones. Two people might suffer from the same illness, might have the same problems with communicating or expressing themselves to the people who love them most. Two people might share similar anxieties on how to be there for someone with a terminal illness. Words, the way we tend to misuse them in our attempts to communicate are central in “The Realistic Joneses.”

Jennifer: Do you want to talk?
Bob: What was just the whole thing about painting the house? And the other night about Belgium?
Jennifer: That was two very short conversations. I don’t have some particular, I’m not … it just seems like we don’t talk.
Bob: What are we doing now? Math?
Jennifer: No, we’re –– I don’t know –– sort of throwing words at each other.
Bob: What? Come on, throwing … I thought we were just sitting here. But, fine, let’s talk.
Jennifer: Good. (brief pause) What’s the thing your most, or just, what’s your biggest fear?
Bob: My biggest? Like, I have so many, they have to be ranked?

However, this story about the neighbors and about sharing life’s little sufferings doesn’t neglect the humor of these situations, that people will always find some way to laugh or lighten the mood for each other. The little funny things that people experience when moving to a new home. During the play, John is trying to fix up this lamp he found in the garbage that the neighbors had thrown out.

Pony: I’m home!
John: Me too. (referring to the lamp) Can you believe someone threw this out?
Pony: Does it work?
John: No.
Pony: Then, yes. We need to get a table.”

Filled with an abundance of quotable one liners that are funny, because they’re clever, but also because we might recognize they’re the words we say when we desperately want either acceptance or distance from the people who love us. Words are important, and the characters turn over the whole human vocabulary in their search for the right ones. They try and fail and keep trying.

If one comes to this play looking for a typical plot driven narrative, one might be disappointed. This is the case with most of Will Eno’s work. It’s not the kind of play that normally makes its way to Broadway. It’s small, it’s intimate, low budget. But, there’s something brave about the commitment to portraying the uncomfortably honest ways we hurt and miscommunicate with the people we love and the people next door.
Hearth and Mantel Theatre is interested in holding a reading of this particular play, because of the questions it asks us about our communities and relationships around Jackson and in our families.

What if, all it took was someone stumbling around and accidentally knocking down garbage cans like the Joneses to form a human connection? How does communication in our communities work now? And, how do we express ourselves to each other when something bad happens to us? There seems to be such a range. Do we shut ourselves off from the people who are afraid they won’t be able to give us what we need? Or, do we lash out in anger? In taking care of someone in their suffering, do we expect too much of them? And, can’t we ever talk honestly about how sometimes the truth is we just don’t know what to do to help, or how to deal with each other?
Maybe, eventually, it’s time to stop pretending we don’t feel certain things. And, maybe, now can be the time we finally communicate those things to one another without our fears and sufferings being disregarded and shut down.

Pony: You know what’s weird and scary?
John: I do. But, it’s always good to hear it again.
Pony: Seriously. To think that you and me aren’t the greatest love story in the world. To think that we’re just kind of a mess, and we’re nice to each other, and we have fun sometimes.
John: Yeah. That’s kind of hard to think about.
Pony: I’m sure there’s some saying about it. Where, since you can’t face that you’re not perfect, and not even close, you try to just make yourself into barely nothing. Do we do that?
John: I do.

The Realistic Joneses

Blog written by Mac Mitchell
Resident Playwright