Stars lead uneven ‘Joneses’

April 18, 2014

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The first noticeable aspect of “The Realistic Joneses” is that it is inherently different from anything else on Broadway this season. The Broadway debut for playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist Will Eno provides a drama masked as a comedy. Audiences will laugh throughout the show, but after the play is over, it is hard to remember what made them laugh in the first place.

The play focuses on two couples — neighbors — both named Jones. Bob is played by Tracy Letts, Tony Award winner and writer of “August: Osage County,” while Academy Award nominee Toni Collette stars as his wife Jennifer. The other couple, John and Pony, are played by Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”) and Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei.

In the first scene, the two couples meet for the first time and the interactions are comedicly awkward, as John and Pony are socially inept. These sudden bursts of conversation and the uncomfortable silences make for an extremely humorous scene.

However, with the discovery of a dead squirrel, it becomes apparent that “Joneses” might not be a comedy after all. The show quickly changes course as it becomes known that both of the Joneses are suffering from the same kind of degenerative mental disease.

Tomei’s character can only be described as an airhead, with many of her lines providing comedic relief for the harsh reality of the men’s plight in the show. John has decided that he shouldn’t share his disease with his wife, claiming that “people getting moody and going blind, it’s just not really her thing.” Hall plays John with sweetness, but evokes the right amount of sadness as well.

Letts and Collette are perfect opposite each other. Bob has decided to deal with his illness by pretending that it doesn’t exist, while Jennifer caringly reminds him that it does.

The problem with “Joneses” is that, despite the character nuances, there isn’t much action going on. While it is interesting theater, it may be tiring for those who do not love Eno’s work. The script reaches its deepest point less than halfway through the show and just circles from there.

“Joneses” progresses through a series of sketches, most of which have nothing to do with each other, and few of which are actually resolved. Carried by terrific acting on the part of seasoned Broadway veterans, the show often asks questions that it fails to answer.

“The Realistic Joneses” is a hard play to keep up with, but it is worth seeing for the actors, and adds a necessary and unique dramatic facet to the current Broadway season.

Bailey Ayers is a contributing writer. Email her at theater@nyunews.com.

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