Performing Arts of Woodstock’s timing feels perfect with The Realistic Joneses

The cast of The Realistic Joneses.

Most agree that hope is necessary to human survival. And that there’s precious little of the stuff around these days. Without hope we’re vulnerable to chronic depression, addiction, homelessness, suicide; we ignore climate change (talk about hopeless), and demonize the “other side” in a nation which feels near as polarized as armies of the North and Southern states in 1861. 

But happier news awaits in Performing Arts of Woodstock’s latest production, The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno, which debuted at Yale Rep in 2012 before conquering Broadway in 2014, while winning numerous prizes and heaps of praise along the way. Eno’s work captures the minimal, occasionally awkward eloquence of an unadorned, (and thoroughly apolitical) American speech with maddeningly amusing, and — in my opinion — poignantly hopeful results. The play’s premise is simple. Newcomers named “Jones” encounter next door neighbors who share this same last name. As well as something darker.   

Wallace Norman founded and steered the “Woodstock Fringe” company for a decade before offering (and quickly proving) his abundant talents primarily as director for PAW. This season, when offered his pick of four scheduled plays, Norman chose to stage The Realistic Joneses, for many reasons. Maybe foremost was “the music” he heard in language resonant with layered meaning — music which manages to elevate the hit and miss communication of Eno’s four characters into something very near heroism. “The people in this play have gorgeous souls,” Norman mused in a recent radio interview. He then added “They help each other,” as if attempting to explain a long-forgotten rite.

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Who’s Who? Norman speaks of his extraordinary cast as a Quartet, and actually lists each as a specific instrument, but not wishing to “define” performances he asks that I withhold these  pairings. (Post-Show Quiz: “Which character is the Bass Fiddle? Answer: Probably not…)

Frankie (aka Francine) Ciccarelli, joined PAW in its recent production of Arms And The Man after appearing in numerous musical roles at the Sharon Playhouse, and at the Rhineback Theatre Society. Joe Bongiorno, is a veteran of over a dozen PAW productions and most recently appeared in The Weir.

Joan Craig trained at HB studios and is a veteran of numerous Off-Broadway shows and joins PAW for the first time. Chris Grady is also a long-standing member of PAW, whose credits include Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, and the 2014 production Circle Mirror Transformation. 

Though described as a “dark” comedy, audiences have universally thrilled to witness Eno’s two sets of “Joneses” rescuing each other in language, which, as Christopher Isherwood observed in the New York Times, is “dappled with the quirky non sequiturs and deadpan wordplay…along with a quiet insistence on the majesty and mystery of human existence.”

Another Eno signature is his use of short vignettes, terminated by blackouts. In a television-dominated age this device begs for comparison to short “scenes” in conventional TV/film narrative. Yet a black-out on stage, especially one that comes quicker than expected, accomplishes what a flat image flatly cannot. The reason being that, if you watch carefully, “a black-out” is always followed by an after-flash in the stage lights, during which characters, frozen in tableau, are momentarily re-visited as if within a dream realm. So the drama is both moved forward quickly (by vignette) as well as placed in a suspended realm beyond time by that after-flash. In short: it’s spooky cool. 

So by hook and by crook Eno’s abrupt revelations of compassion — performed locally for a first time before an audience doubtless desperate for relief from an increasingly pervasive paranoia — will, unwittingly, provide us hope that a return to a more trusting time is possible. 

And by the way…the quartet of characters comprising The Realistic Joneses need not actually rescue each other, even if they merely try to fashion a lifeline, lashed together though it may be with language which stops and starts and only resolves into a whole through the accidental-on-purpose collision of fragments. This alone is enough to invoke a profound nostalgia for that “live and let live” realm, which — chronically speaking — isn’t really that far away, really. For it was only seven years ago, in 2012, (circa Obama’s re-election) that Yale Rep introduced The Realistic Joneses, — a somber comedy in which strangers sharing the same name are joined fast in solidarity against The Great Unknown. 

And let’s not forget that The Realistic Joneses, has been called very funny. Dreadfully funny, in fact. And so?

I hope…to see you there.

The Realistic Joneses will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays, November 15-17, November 22-24, November 29-December 1, at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center, 56 Rock City Road, Woodstock. Tickets are $23, $20 and, for PAW members, $15. For tickets, see www.performingartsofwoodstock.org or call 845-679-7900. 

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