”When the dead squirrel gets thrown away, that’s usually our cue to head on home,” declares John Jones (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall) in the first scene of The Realistic Joneses, the chatty yet curiously empty Broadway debut from minimalist wordsmith Will Eno. And how do you top a trashcan-side eulogy for an expired rodent (”And off you go, into the great oak tree in the sky?”)?
Eno’s latest work is actually full of eccentric comedy — none of which springs from the obvious convention of assigning all four characters the same boring last name: neighbors/married couples Pony (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei) and John (Hall), and Jennifer (Toni Collette) and Bob (the ferocious Tracy Letts, the Tony-winning writer of August: Osage County and star of last year’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Eno, who’s also represented this season Off Broadway with The Open House, has an affinity for suburban living (see his 2010 Middletown). He also manages to make light of his characters’ more mundane musings — ”I feel like I should go to med school or get my hair cut or something,” Pony says at one point — without a trace of superiority or snideness.
But for all its quips and punch lines, The Realistic Joneses is surprisingly short on plot. Actually, it’s almost entirely devoid of any action whatsoever. Sure, the characters have some intriguing quirks: Bob has been stricken with a (fictional) degenerative nerve disease, Harriman Leavey Syndrome, the main symptom of which appears to be a Tourette’s-like way of saying the absolute wrong thing at the wrong time. Jennifer is lovely but emotionally beaten-down from her role as caregiver. John officially works in heating and cooling, but moonlights as an amateur stalker. Oh, and he likes horsing around — which perhaps explains his marriage to a woman named Pony. As for Pony, she lets kids get their kicks by flicking lit matches at her. Imagine the high jinks that could ensue — or the tragedy that could unfold — with this bunch!
Alas, nothing ensues or unfolds, which makes for an excruciatingly long 90 minutes (despite director Sam Gold’s snappy pacing). As Jennifer says dejectedly to her husband, ”We’re — I don’t know — throwing words at each other.” Like the dead squirrel, that line comes in the first few minutes. Who could guess it would be a harbinger of things to come? C
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