Christoff Lundgren, Colleen Allen, Zack Siezmagraff, and Brooke Hodgson in The Realistic Joneses. Photo by Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.
Good storytelling often starts in the middle, and doesn’t explain everything right away.
The Realistic Joneses, a play by Will Eno currently on stage at Walterdale Theatre, does this brilliantly. A married couple sits in their backyard, having a frustrating conversation. Jennifer (Colleen Allen) tries to find more verbal connection with her spouse Bob (Zack Siezmagraff), and he bats away all the metaphorical volleys. “Why don’t we ever talk?” “We talked last week. About Belgium.”
A crash of garbage cans offstage turns out not to be raccoons but in fact the lively new neighbours John and Pony (Christoff Lundgren and Brooke Hodgson), bearing wine. This interrupts the previous non-conversation and introduces new levels of awkwardness. All of this is very funny and strangely familiar. Each character has practised routines of social behaviour, from John’s joking gestures and one-liners and Pony’s sidekick perkiness to Jennifer’s urge to fill silences with chatter.
In this script, there is a lot of playing with words, fumbling for words, and using words to distract and deflect. Some characters were keeping secrets, secrets that mattered. Some characters hinted at hardships, past and present. But these characters are not people who would explain things to each other, and not explaining to the audience is part of what makes this play so intriguing. There is some opening-up, some revealing and regretting, and a moving and hopeful ending.
The actors and director (John Anderson) convinced me early on that each character had some urgent needs driving him or her forward, strong motivations that were conveyed indirectly but compellingly. They almost never asked each other directly for anything, but each character had consistent intention and every scene was necessary towards each character’s goals. I was so involved with figuring out the characters that it was only afterwards I was able to think about the actors and their preparation, realizing that these portrayals happened because the actors understood the characters’ intentions and knew how to express them.
I was particularly taken with Zack Siezmagraff’s portrayal of a character who starts off cranky-awkward and becomes somewhat more transparent, never unlikeable but often frustrating. I could hear other members of the audience also being so engaged with whether Bob was saying the wrong thing that there were a lot of gasps and sighs and head-shaking around me.
As you might already know if you’ve listened to me talk about plays or tv shows I’ve seen, I love stories where the people are in difficult or sad situations but the characters are so consistently themselves that the dialogue is very funny. So The Realistic Joneses just hits the spot for me.
I also appreciated the mountain skyline in the set design (Joan Hawkins), the overall subtle sound design (Shawn Pallier), and one particular lighting effect which I won’t give away (Richard Hatfield).
The Realistic Joneses is running at Walterdale Theatre until Saturday July 16th, 2022. Tonight is 2-for-1 night, and next Wednesday (July 13) is Pay-What-You-Can night. Advance tickets are available through Walterdale’s website (no extra service charges), and walk-up tickets will be available at the door.