Red Stitch Actor’s Theatre – 25 April – 28 May
Julian Meyrick directs this Melbourne production of Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses, a poignant and often absurd exploration of changing relationship dynamics in the face of mortality. Eno’s dark, wry humour elicits consistent laughs from the Red Stitch audience and the play’s intimate subject matter seems to fit the small venue perfectly.
Hooting owls set the opening scene for middle-aged couple Bob (Neil Pigot) and Jennifer Jones (Sarah Sutherland) watching the clouds pass overhead in their backyard and making awkward small talk. Soon interrupted by their eavesdropping new neighbours John (Justin Hoskin) and Pony Jones (Ella Caldwell) climbing over their fence, the younger and the older Joneses forge an unusual relationship, bonding over John and Bob’s shared diagnosis, their fear of mortality and their communication issues.
Hoskin as John is enthusiastic and almost wilfully ignorant of social boundaries. At times, Hoskin’s performance feels somewhat one-dimensional in contrast with Pigot’s performance; where Hoskin is abrupt and almost callous, Pigot’s shortness is softened by bewilderment.
Although Eno gives room for Jennifer to be interpreted as resentful of the caregiver role into which she’s been thrust, Sutherland’s nuanced performance instead plays with despair, loneliness and an almost maternal selflessness, despair and loneliness. When she cracks, swearing at Bob, “I am really fucking upset,” she’s wounded but not resentful; her delivery is distressed but not particularly biting. This is even more apparent in contrast with Caldwell’s irritatingly blithe Pony. Grating, obnoxious and naively narcissistic, Caldwell’s Pony is almost insufferably unlikeable.
Towards the play’s conclusion, Pony attempts to pray. Eno hints at self-awareness and Pony’s desire to better understand her husband John. Awkwardly musing “You’re probably, like, my God, what is this even about?”, Caldwell’s performance instead plays up Pony’s youthful naïveté and self-absorption. It’s surprisingly honest, realistic and refreshing to see the character apparently seeking self-improvement and failing miserably.