Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 13 -30, 2019
Playwright: Will Eno
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Jeff Houston, Suzann James, David Jeffrey, Jodine Muir
Images by Clare Hawley
There are two straight couples living across the street from each other, both named Jones. In The Realistic Joneses, characters go about their average mundane small town lives, but there is something distinctly strange about the way they talk. Playwright Will Eno’s dialogue feels like high art, bizarre yet completely believable, for a way of excavating truths about the human condition, that only the medium of performance can deliver. Resolutely quirky, The Realistic Joneses brings upheaval to concepts of normalcy that inform Western life. The Joneses speak what they are supposed to, but also what they are not. They portray the ordinary in a manner that creates turbulence, making us laugh because we understand all the arbitrariness of rules that fundamentally govern the politeness of society.
Actor David Jeffrey finds the right pitch for conveying the play’s humour, deadpan but deliberate in an interpretation of John that almost makes him seem an alien pretending to be human. There is no doubt that we can all relate to this sense of displacement, of being awkward in social situations. Director Julie Baz’s understated approach is surprisingly effective in depicting the comedy inherent in our daily lives, but an emphasis on naturalism can sometimes take away from Eno’s heightened style. The very subdued closing scenes abandon the laughs, in search of poignancy, which sadly never quite materialises.
It is a splendid title, that reveals so much about how we present our selves to the world. We aim to be realistic, of appearing to look real, probably because actually being real is not something our collective existence is able to cope with. Those who truly speak their minds are ostracised, maybe even cast as insane, so we learn where the limits are, and negotiate within those rigid borders. There is always something false in how we communicate, especially when in groups. The answer is not to withdraw and hide in arrogant isolation, but to question all that is shown to us. Cynicism, one would argue, is necessary in one’s participation in the world. The real challenge is making that cynicism sit side by side, with an earnestness we must never give up, in our involvement with this world.