Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review - The Realistic Joneses

I've been hearing about Will Eno plays for years and years now (at least it seems like years and years - you know how I am about gauging the passage of time).  I know that some critics consider him a successor to Beckett or Albee or Pinter, and I know his use of language is quite divisive audience-wise.  I've only seen one play of his, Gnit, at Humana last year.  I remember enjoying a lot of the play, though I went in with a preconceived enjoyment of Peer Gynt, and I also remember finding some of the play arch and overly smug.  Well, after snagging a TDF ticket last night to his Broadway debut play The Realistic Joneses, I kinda am still on that same arch/overly smug Eno page.

I was taken with a lot of the dialogue in The Realistic Joneses - some of it was hip, funny and relatively profound.  Taken line by separate line, there was some interesting stuff throughout.  And the acting was uniformly quite fine.  But after about an hour of the same repetitive speech rhythm, I began to beg (in my brain) for the show to be over.  I wasn't touched or even really engaged, I was just vaguely curious about what might come next.  Which I guess can be a good response to a play, but it's not a successful response for me, as a viewer.

The four characters in the play - two married couples - all sound exactly alike.  They have the same quirky off-kilter vocal patterns that indicate to me they all sound like the author instead of themselves.  Well, I guess two of the characters were MORE quirky than the others (and, truthfully, they sometimes seemed to have a sort of personality disorder to me instead of just being quirky, so that laid a whole other flavor to the proceedings), but they still all seemed to talk alike.  So my brain started to rebel and I could only hear blah blah blah.  Which probably ISN'T a good response to a play.  When one character says (in my paraphrase) "We're, I don't know, throwing words at each other," and I think, "uh, yes you are," that's not necessarily a good thing.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
I adore Tracy Letts and Toni Collette, so they were the most successful actors (and characters) to me.  I found Letts' searching, but at the same time remaining willfully ignorant of what was going on around him, very intriguing.  And Collette had some very interesting shadings and fun line readings in her more caretaking role.  If I found the other two actors to be just a little too much, I guess that's just me, because they have been getting rave reviews across the board and even last night's audience seemed to be raving about them (I overheard quite a few conversations on the way down from the mezzanine, on the way to the subway, and even on the subway car, all raving about how much more interesting their two characters were; clearly, I am out of touch with society as a whole).

I guess I could see where themes of mortality or infidelity were woven into the evening's proceedings, but they were so obscured (for me) by the ceaseless clever dialogue and masses of non-sequitors.  All together, they didn't add up to anything for me.  With a Beckett or Albee or Pinter, for me there's always something roiling underneath those characters and the unique dialogue, and it's the something underneath that makes me feel something or think about something.  I haven't found the 'underneath' yet in an Eno play.  Maybe I won't.  Maybe that's just the way it is.  Maybe he doesn't WANT me to find the underneath or there is no underneath.  Who knows?  I guess it's like anything else - you like what you like, other people like what they like, and sometimes, never the twain shall meet. 

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