Playwright Will Eno subverts almost every line of dialogue that comes out of his characters’ mouths in The Realistic Joneses (at the Lyceum Theatre through at least July 6): all the cliches, the theatrical conventions. If you ever thought the way people talk on a stage was stupid, you’d appreciate the way Eno always goes back, whether through the person who said it or the person they’re talking to, and makes fun. “I’m not a little kid!” an older, ailing character protests to his wife late in the show. “How so?” she asks. He pauses. “I’m tall. I’m taller than little kids.”
The script crackles like this so often that you could easily say this is a silly play, just an amusing diversion, and it’s certainly gut-busting. But it’s also subtly moving; the way the dialogue mocks itself fits in with the characters’ habits of ignoring their problems, donning humor as armor and avoiding confrontation. Toni Colette and Tracy Letts (a noted playwright who first gained attention as an actor in New York in the acclaimed revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that closed a year ago) play the older Joneses, whose marriage is stressed by Letts’s rare congenital disease; Michael C. Hall and Marisa Tomei play their goofy new neighbors, also a married couple who share the surname Jones, whose relationship and backstories are slightly more mysterious.
In 90 minutes set in small-town backyards and living rooms, Eno tracks the difficult progressions of these two couples’ lives and the clumsy ways they intersect—or, rather, collide. “It’s all about bodies and light,” Hall’s character says about life, but he could be describing the play. “Appearance and disappearance. That’s all it is.” Life is ephemeral, and its value ambiguous. You could say the same about the theater, though the funnier it is, and the more it can make you reconsider your own life, the more substantial it becomes. The Realistic Joneses is a very substantial new play.
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