“The Realistic Jonses”, a single-act play by Will Eno, premiered at the Yale Repertory Theater on April 20. Quirky, heart-warming, and at times, incredibly sad, “The Realistic Jonses” reveals Eno’s astute and accepting understanding of the human condition, in all its glory and all its misery.
The play tells the story of two sets of Jonses—Jennifer & Bob (played by Johanna Day & Tracy Letts), a middle-aged couple whose marriage and lives have been daunted by a crippling illness, and John & Pony (played by Glenn Fitzgerald and Parker Posey), the younger Jonses and new residents of the small rural town in which Eno’s play is set. In the first scene, Jennifer & Bob are sitting in the backyard when their solitude is interrupted by the arrival of John & Pony who arrive to introduce themselves to their new neighbors with a bottle of red wine.
"We’re Jonses too," Pony tells them. The conversation between the two couples, friendly yet simultaneously awkward, is welcomed by Jennifer, whose feelings of loneliness and isolation are evident from the start of the play. Bob is suffering from a degenerative disease that he wishes to know nothing about, and Jennifer has given up her job and her life in order to monitor her husband’s treatment. Consumed by fear and uncertainty, Bob has become withdrawn, and the lack of communication in her marriage is increasingly troublesome to Jennifer. In contrast, John and Pony bluntly say whatever comes to their mind, no matter how non-sensical the thought may be.
Yet the two couples soon discover they have more in common than being Jonses—in an intimate moment at the grocery store, John reveals to Jennifer he is suffering from the same illness as Bob. Like Bob, John uses denial as a defense mechanism, concealing his disease from Pony, whose off-beat fragility is so effortlessly portrayed by Posey. Just as John and Jennifer seek comfort in each other as they struggle to remain stoic despite their pain, Pony and Bob form a connection based on their refusal to come to terms with the nitty-gritty stuff that surrounds them.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about denial and defense,” Eno told Yale Rep in an interview. “Not necessarily as negative characteristics bu more just as human ones.” Fueled by his witty humor and deadpan dialogue, the play explores these ideas beautifully in Eno’s portrayal of the Jonses. They are flawed, afraid, weak and yet so purely human. In their struggles to cope they manage to laugh and inevitably they make it to the next day.
In the final scene of the play, the four Jonses sit together outside, looking up at the night sky. Bob, unusually light-hearted, the result of popping an extra pain-pill, tells the others, “Well, I don’t think anything good is going to happen to us, but what can you do?”
Now what’s more realistic than that?