The mysterious beauty of Will Eno’s “The Realistic Joneses” at B Street Theatre can’t quite be pinned down. You’ll laugh at the absurdity until tears run down your cheeks and become emotional later for entirely different reasons. Outwardly simple, yet layered with the questions of life we hold close to hearts and deep in our thoughts, the play won’t hit you over the head, but it will hit you hard.
Set mostly in the nondescript homes and backyards of two couples named Jones, the story unfolds in short scenes that are by turns absurdly hilarious as well as strikingly tender (and hilarious) in their unlikely honesty and intimacy. Playwright Eno has unique facility with words and meanings, conversation and communication, language and expectations. Eno’s characters speak and respond with non sequiturs that are primal unedited honesty and both hysterical and terrifying. There’s awkwardness here between people, even those who are intimate, that Eno magnifies instead of smoothing over.
The first couple we meet are Bob and Jennifer (Dave Pierini and Elisabeth Nunziato) who seem to be in their early 40s and experiencing a bit of marital ennui. He’s dour and a little grouchy. She’s tired of him being this way and trying to steer him toward a happier place. He’s resisting. There’s something else going on with them but before we learn much more, their new neighbors, John and Pony, stumble (literally) into the scene. As regular and unremarkable as Bob and Jennifer seem, the younger John and Pony (John Lamb and Dana Brooke) are slightly off and benignly kooky. They’re endearing as well in their oddball way, loving each other as only misfits who understand themselves and each other can.
Explaining how they came to live in the little town, Pony says, “I always wanted to live in one of these little towns near the mountains. So one night, he comes home and literally just says, literally – I forget what you said exactly.”
“Just, something about moving to one of these little towns near the mountains,” John offers.
The ground seems shifting around Bob and Jennifer because he has a degenerative illness that affects his memory and use of language. Jennifer wants to help him deal with it, but he prefers ignoring it. They’ve moved to the town because a doctor there is at the forefront of experimental research for treatment. It turns out the other Joneses have come there for the same reason – only Pony doesn’t know of her husband’s illness. While John reaches out to Jennifer, Bob in his way reaches out to Pony, and the couples form an unlikely friendship.
It might not seem like much, but in the sublime, skilled give-and-take of each actor, everyday moments become extraordinary with these characters facing circumstances both profound and banal. Director Buck Busfield guides his finely tuned and guileless ensemble with a firm, sensible hand, letting the comedy and introspection unfold evenly.
Though awkwardness remains a constant, the characters accept it as we accept them, and we all find some grace in our understanding that this uncertainty is how things are.
The Realistic Joneses
What: Sacramento premiere of Will Eno’s critically acclaimed dark comedy. With Dana Brooke, John Lamb, Elisabeth Nunziato and Dave Pierini. Buck Busfield directs.
When: Continues through Feb. 6; 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Thursdays; some 1 p.m. Sunday matinees
Where: B2 Stage of B Street Theatre, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Cost: $25-$35; $15 student rush
Information: 916-443-5300; bstreettheatre.org