THE REALISTIC JONESES - MELBOURNE
THE REALISTIC JONESES, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 25 April-28 May 2017. Photography by Teresa Noble: above - Justin Hosking, Ella Caldwell, Neil Pigot and Sarah Sutherland; below - Caldwell and Pigot
American writer Will Eno has a delicious way of making you look at how you deal with life, illness and mortality. He lobs characters together who have a similarity and not just their surname – Jones.
Set in a small town in America, a couple of retirement age sorts are dealing with the husband’s health: a crippling deterioration of the brain. Their lives have changed irrevocably, both unable to talk about it without sniping. Fear. The wife, Jennifer Jones (Sarah Sutherland) needs her husband Bob (Neil Pigot) to talk to her – about anything – but he can’t and he doesn’t understand. They are both unable to deal with the reality of the terminal illness.
They are joined at dusk by their new neighbours, John Jones (Justin Hosking) and Pony (Ella Caldwell) who have moved into the area. They too, are grappling with what life is throwing at them.
In a way, the couples swap; Jennifer and John talk about their demons and what life is chucking up for them individually, and then it comes to light that John has the same “illness” as her husband. Their conversations are about not listening and responding but speaking aloud, trying to make sense of their plight.
Pony and Bob do much the same but get more up close and personal; the personal being the intimacy that Jennifer has been craving. This too is unfair.
The dialogue is sometimes slow and deliberate and at other times is snippets of stream of consciousness, especially from Pony who seemingly has her own demons. Pony by name and pony by nature, with Caldwell swinging her hair pony-like, almost neighing her words. The character of Pony is troubling, her fear of sight and smell is palpable; the witnessing of her partner’s decline becoming too much; she/they want life to be as it was, but it won’t be. Caldwell is terrific as Pony. Hosking’s John is hyperactive, unable to cope without humour or sarcasm. His decline as the illness becomes more apparent is frenetic, it is hard not to feel for him.
Sutherland’s way of speaking is just right: she has an edge to her voice and accent that put you right into the small town. You feel her loss of the life that she had been accustomed to, now having to cope with Bob and his hospital visits, his medication, his inability to engage. Pigot’s character is tough, monosyllabic, the writer giving him humor and his wife a double dose of uppers. After the intimacy with Pony we see a slight shift in his interaction with Jennifer.
Ultimately this is a piece about mortality. The coping mechanisms of those with a terminal illness and those who partner them; how lives have to change and how we need others from outside our world to make sense of the change.
Director Julian Mayrick understands Eno’s idiosyncratic writing and gets terrific performances from his actors. I found the scene changes a bit out of kilter and wonder if there’s a different way to delineate them, or do they need to be delineated at all? The set design, from Gregory Clark, is minimal which works, with lighting by Bronwyn Pringle who gaves us the eerie and leaves us with the stars of the night sky.
The Realistic Joneses and this production will divide, and it will elicit discussion.