Friday, June 16, 2017

NCTC's "Realistic Joneses" Well Done but Reality Bites

Peter Dylan O'Connor and Brenda Joyner in The Realistic Joneses (Danielle Franich)
The Realistic Joneses
New Century Theatre Company
Through July 1, 2017

There is a terrific four-hander cast doing some lovely acting work and it’s easy to appreciate them doing so. The big problem with New Century Theatre Company’s production of The Realistic Joneses is that they’re doing The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno.

Will Eno’s play, Thom Pain (based on nothing) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2005. It was produced at Seattle Repertory not long afterward in 2006 with stalwart actor Todd Jefferson Moore who has done many plays with great talent. However, my biggest memory of that experience was being yelled at by a solo actor for over an hour. I hated it. Not just didn’t like it…

That play is one of the number of times I have found a play to have won a Pulizter Prize or been a finalist and wondered just what the panel was smoking that caused them to make the choices they made.

In 2013, ACT did a very credible production of Eno’s Middletown. I reviewed it and, after saying that the cast and the production were pretty great (but not the script), I added, “In many ways, Eno succeeds in creating today’s small town doing small town things. No one is particularly amazing or successful, and aside from the astronaut, no one has even 'local celebrity' attached to his or her character. There are a lot of quips and moments of dry humor delivered with great timing. There is poetry of a wordy sort and a little bit of Pinter’s silences mixed in, where people start to say something and then close their mouths on it.

“The biggest problem with the play is Eno’s writing. (The characters) are archetypes created to espouse Eno’s ideas, rather than characters created to tell a story where they connect with each other. The story happens almost by accident.”

This is the third Eno play, then, that I have experienced. None of the companies took the plays for granted or slouched in presenting them. Similarly, NCTC has a great set idea by Andrea Bryn Bush with what seems a large wooden backside of a mountain home with a kind of living diorama above of mountains and small houses that wake and sleep (likely with the help of lighting designer Evan Christian Anderson) almost as another character. I loved watching the little mountain town and seeing the small train run through it. I would have loved to have seen tiny fireworks or tiny hot air balloons, too, where appropriate.

The way the wall slid open to reveal another home was interesting, though it created unexpected awkwardness in the way that director Paul Budraitis used the space. It was creative, but felt awkward somehow. The characters developed by Sunam Ellis, Evan Whitfield, Peter Dylan O’Connor and Brenda Joyner were distinct and specific.

I have to repeat though that the characters were part of a small town doing small things. Here, they are neighbors doing sort of neighborly things but in awkward quirky ways. The first time we meet O’Connor and Joyner, they are practically eavesdropping on Ellis and Whitfield, standing in the dark in silence until they finally decide to come into the backyard and announce they’ve recently moved in. They were so creepy that I thought they might be deceptively dangerous.

But no, the play doesn’t even make that much effort to make them dangerous except in a general “skirting the edge of possible affairs” type of danger. There is a kind of arc to the script, but it takes so very long to get anywhere that you’re not likely to care once “something happens.”

In summary, I want to understand why people think Eno is such a great writer. I think he has a pretty good grasp of sometimes interestingly quirky dialogue. I also think he has a highly inflated sense of his own coolness and that his plays are full of great ideas. He has somehow convinced a whole lot of other people to go along with his perception.

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