by Lynn on November 20, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Will Eno
Directed by Richard Rose
Set and Costumes by Charlotte Dean
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Lighting by Graeme S. Thomson
Starring: Tom Barnett
Susan Coyne
Patrick McManus
Jenny Young.

A play about life and mortality by the linguistically dextrous playwright, Will Eno performed by an impeccable cast.

The Story. The play is written by Will Eno, an American playwright who does interesting things with language, humour and loopy juxtapositions as well as situations.

Bob and Jennifer Jones live in a small town. Bob has not been well. He has a degenerative nerve disorder. The symptoms are mysterious and the cure or treatment is illusive. Bob is pensive about it. Jennifer tries to be as supportive and up beat as possible. The doctor who discovered the disease lives in that town and is Bob’s doctor.

John and Pony Jones have just moved in to the house next door and have invited themselves over to introduce themselves. John is that bubbly, jokey kind of guy who pays attention to ever word said to him to make a joke about it. He doesn’t exactly pun but he does twist words around for his kind of humour. You need a lot of patience for John as he riffs and riffs on the words that are spoken in what should be simple conversation. We learn that John’s happy demeanour is a ruse. John has a secret he’s trying to hide. His wife Pony is a fidgety, flighty woman. John seems to have patience for Pony. The couples appear to be so different from each other. Or are they?

The Production. Director Richard Rose has put the two houses on a turntable for easy shifting of scenes. For Bob and Jennifer the scenes are in their back yard—simple lawn chairs sit in front of the back of the house. The set then revolves to the interior, kitchen of John and Pony’s house—nothing fancy about the kitchen.

The acting in all four cases is superb. As Bob, Tom Barnett broods on his situation. He sits with his hands folded in his lap, face grimaced, depressed. He does not engage in small talk even with Jennifer his wife. He seems almost annoyed when she wants to engage him in conversation that will try and cheer him. Susan Coyne as Jennifer has a buoyant smile and it’s obvious she’s trying to lift her husband’s spirits. Coyne has subtle body language that just makes us look and listen harder to what she is saying and why. It is a performance of quiet desperation, a silent ache to help Bob cope.

As John, Patrick McManus fidgets and shifts on his feet and has a lot of physical energy. He listens hard to make jokes of what he has literally heard and not figuratively. He could grate on one’s nerves, but McManus gives John a quiet sense of desperation that he makes us stay the course to figure him out.

And finally as Pony, Jenny Young has her own kinetic energy that comes more from awkwardness rather than an effort to take over the room. She also has an innocence that John wants to protect. He also thinks that telling her bad news is not helpful.

Will Eno lets his clues and his play unfold slowly and subtly, but when you realize the central mystery and how the various characters deal with their issues, it’s startling, in the best way.

Comment. Will Eno is a playwright with a fine ear for quirky dialogue that says everything about his characters. Perhaps John is not as happy-go lucky as we thought.

Often theatre requires that we have more patience for characters than we might have for real people in our lives, and perhaps there might be a spill-over. He’s exploring life, mortality, the inevitable we try to avoid, love, patience, not wanting to hurt a loved one with bad news and humour.

The Realistic Joneses has humour that comes out of it naturally and with finesse.

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 16, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 18, 2016.
Cast: 4: 2 men, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

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