The thing I like about the Limelight on Oxford is that the audience enters the theatre via the stage. Hence, we tread the same boards as the actors. It gives us an additional dimension from which to inhale the atmosphere of the production, besides ambience, lighting and comfort. So, we’re off to a good start with The Realistic Joneses. The stage is littered with leaves and twigs, and a timber bench sits in the middle. It’s a calming environment which provides a hint of the story about to unfold.
The play begins with a middle-aged couple, Bob Jones (Jeff Houston) and Jennifer Jones (Suzann James) sitting quietly at the table in their backyard, listening to the night noises and enjoying the twinkling of stars. Jennifer talks about the beautiful night sky and the big owl that hoots in the background. Bob, on the other hand, is a gentle giant just listening to Jennifer, giving one-word responses but not really engaging. It seems like the relationship has stalled; life is mundane and repetitious. After a few comments about the need to paint the house, Jennifer’s frustration shows as she asks Bob to talk to her. Uh oh, how many men have had this conversation, I think to myself! Bob responds gruffly, saying that he thought they were ‘talking’, but Jennifer is really seeking a ‘deep and meaningful’.
Suddenly, the other two characters enter the scene. They introduce themselves as new neighbours and have brought a gift of a bottle of wine. Co-incidentally, their last name is also Jones. However, John Jones (David Jeffrey) and Pony Jones (Jodine Muir) are strangely different from Bob and Jennifer. From the outset, John and Pony’s friendliness is overcast by their excessive inquisitiveness and familiarity. They comment on having overheard Bob and Jennifer’s earlier private conversation; John is cagey about revealing his occupation, stating initially that he is an astronaut, and; Pony urgently wants to use the bathroom, with John also disappearing into the house to use the second toilet. Bob appears to pick up on this strange behaviour and abruptly ends the night by firmly saying that they need to leave.
Over the course of several weeks, the friendship between the Joneses develops. A chance meeting in the local grocery store between Jennifer and John is awkward as John tries to make romantic overtures. Bob’s demeanour opens over time as well as he delights whenever in the company of Pony.
There’s nothing too complicated in The Realistic Joneses. The plot is relatively simple. The play’s virtue is its celebration of ordinary lifestyles which the bulk of us lead. Whilst generally content with their lives, the characters mature and grow in optimism as their interpersonal relationships flourish.
John’s odd social behaviour struck me as mildly psychopathic. Bob’s introvert personality was in stark contrast. But they both have a lot in common as the play progresses. Friendship is the feeling that’s been lacking in their lives and with failing health they find enjoyment in their new bond. The wives are contented but they are still free to dream of what life might be like outside their small-town existence. Jennifer often goes to the grocery store just to read the exotic European labels on jars.
Written by Will Eno, The Realistic Joneses is an enjoyable, if not quirky, look at contemporary coupledom life. The character of John seems odd although he is the catalyst for improving the daily lives of Jennifer, Bob and Pony.
Director Julie Baz sets a good mood for this play. With an excellent cast and creative team, there is a cosy, homely feeling. The instrumental background music has a rustic, semi-country charm about it. The actors were very well cast, with each actor ably bringing out the soul of their characters.
For a play that seemingly deals with humdrum and trivial everyday experiences, The Realistic Joneses will embolden your outlook and give you a new zest for whatever life serves up.
The Realistic Joneses is on at the Limelight on Oxford, Sydney until 30 March 2019.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- True West (Limelight) – theatre review
- My Night with Reg (New Theatre) – theatre review
- Murder on the Wireless (Ensemble) – theatre review
Eric Scott is a Brisbane-based entertainment and travel writer, playwright and novelist