Theater Review: THE REALISTIC JONESES (Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach)

Post image for Theater Review: THE REALISTIC JONESES (Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach)

by Dan Zeff on May 1, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Samuel Beckett

Dramatist Will Eno doesn’t make it easy on the audience in his 2012 play The Realistic Joneses at the Laguna Playhouse. Viewers are asked to decide whether the play is primarily a comedy or a sober view of the human condition salted with bits of the playwright’s quirky humor. The large press night audience seemed to side with the play’s laughs, but many reviews of earlier productions seemed to lean toward the play’s more mordant side.

The play consists of four characters, two married couples both named Jones. Bob (Joe Spano) and his wife Jennifer (Sorcha Fox) are a suburban couple surprised by the entrance of their new neighbors John (Conor Lovett) and Pony (Faline England). The two pair quickly enter into a conversation that settles into a kind of patter that consists of non-sequiturs and changes in verbal direction that the characters accept like they are speaking in everyday chat.

Faline England and Joe Spano

We don’t learn much about the characters, except for the eventual news that one of the two men has an unnamed and perhaps fatal disease that also may be afflicting the other man. All four exchange lots of small talk but no clear narrative line emerges. There is almost no physical action, the characters seldom touching, and there are no emotional outbursts until almost the end of the play.

Faline England, Joe Spano, Sorcha Fox and Conor Lovett

The Realistic Joneses exists in several versions. Since its debut at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2012 (and later on Broadway in 2014), the play has been performed in lengths ranging from 90 minutes to 2 uninterrupted, and perhaps excessive, hours at the Laguna Playhouse. According to the program notes “The town in which the play takes place is a regular and semi-rural town, not far from some mountains.” The actual set consists of two connected large circular wooden discs. The props are items of what looks like lawn furniture, a table, and an old refrigerator, all anonymous looking in the spirit of the low-keyed verbal atmosphere.

Faline England and Conor Lovett

The play’s language and the physical look call forth the influence of Samuel Beckett’s spare plays, and the production does list director Judy Hegarty-Lovett and Conor Lovett as experienced Beckett hands in both Europe and the United States. The international flavor is enhanced by Sorcha Fox, an Irish actress who speaks with a charming Irish lilt. Joe Spano, who has an impressive list of credits in television and motion pictures in the United States, is perfect as the weary Bob.

Joe Spano, Sorcha Fox, Faline England and Conor Lovett

Faline England splendidly rounds out the cast as the wide-eyed Pony but her comparative youth and good looks clashes with the settled middle-aged appearances of her three talented colleagues. I kept waiting for an erotic spark to ignite between her and Joe Spano’s Bob but no such luck. It’s not that kind of play.

Faline England, Joe Spano, Conor Lovett and Sorcha Fox

The production profits from Molly O’ Cathain’s scenic and costume designs, Simon Bennison’s lighting, and music and sound designs by Mel Mercer; They combine to add an abstract quality to a show that superficially seems realistic and down to earth but suggests underlying feelings of melancholy and fatalism, though garnished with hope.

I suspect that most members of the audience were more taken with the show’s offbeat but accessible humor rather than its intimations of mortality. I also strongly fear that for many spectators the two hours of performance time is a bit much. But the performances and directing deliver a superb reading of Eno’s script and even viewers who can’t get a handle on the play’s elusive subtext will take pleasure in the play’s countless chuckles.

photos by Veronica Slavin

The Realistic Jones
Laguna Playhouse
606 Laguna Canyon Drive in Laguna Beach, CA
Wed-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 1 & 5:30
ends on May 14, 2023
for tickets ($56-$81), call 949.497.2787 x1 or visit Laguna Playhouse

Leave a Comment