Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘The Realistic Joneses’ delves dilemmas in Sturgeon Bay

Critic At Large

Isadoora Theatre Company

Marcel Bruyere, from left, Loretta Heath, Dan Sallinen and Amanda Sallinen make up the cast for the Isadoora Theatre Company production of “The Realistic Joneses.” (Company photo)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV)

In 25 words, the story of “The Realistic Joneses”: Two neighbor couples with the same last name share mounting challenges with a mysterious syndrome that cloaks a creeping form of dilapidation of the mind.

At least I think that’s the story.

Everything is a bit off for both Joneses.

John and Pony Jones are new to the neighborhood. They drop in with a welcoming gift for Bob and Jennifer Jones, who are sitting in their backyard with Jennifer prodding Bob to talk to her. John and Pony have eavesdropped before their arrival and seem impertinent. John tends to blurt comments. The exchanges between the couples take unexpected paths. Sample:

Bob: “You know what they say about still waters.”

John: “Mosquitoes? Malaria?”

That is often how “The Realistic Joneses” goes.

What transpires is as if playwright Will Eno has heard really unusual conversations and compiled them into a play that keeps the audience tipped – or at least me. So much is open to interpretation. Will Eno never comes right out with his intent, likely by design.

For the director and players of Isadoora Theatre Company, the play is a chance to burrow into personas dealing with facades of normalcy. Or seems to be.

Director Richard Carlson keeps the cast committed to task. Performance is a commitment – what would it be like to be someone who is off kilter? The performers are experienced, so they present nuances well.

Three players are consistent in their character’s inconsistencies.

One. Dan Sallinen portrays Bob, who is being treated for behaviors that have sat him down from his job as highway materials planner. Medication kinda/sorta helps. He kinda/sorta is a person. But not.

Two. Marcel Bruyere portrays John, who gives an illusion of being clever and knowing but has many hidden passages. He says he is an astronaut, but is in heating and cooling, or trying to be. John seems to be a jokesmith, but his humor is sometimes elusive.

Three. Loretta Heath portrays Pony, John’s wife, whose approach to John’s difficulties boil down to escape! – she has problems enough of her own. Pony thinks it is okay to offer herself as a target for hooligan kids to flip lighted matches at.

Amanda Sallinen portrays Jennifer, Bob’s wife, the play’s oasis of normalcy. Jennifer is dutiful, patient and persistent in trying to get Bob on track. But that is oh so hard.

What Bob and John have is a rarity – a one-in-millions thing. Uncertainty is the only certainty about what they are dealing with.

Humor floats through “The Realistic Joneses,” usually off-kilter dark or ironic. Sample:

Bob and Jones, loopy as all get out, stand together outside. Bob sighs, “Just a couple of guys.” Jonn sighs, “Just a couple of guys.” Ya, right.

The title of the play is intriguing. I think the meaning of its key words are opposites. “Joneses” suggests normalcy, commonplace, a comfy life style, the ordinary. These Joneses are rife with struggle. The struggle has to do with “Realistic.” These Joneses deal with un-realities of where some minds go. Added thought: In life, to so many individuals and families, the un-real – the illusive challenges of fraying minds – is a reality. Will Eno’s play suggests what living that life might be.

Walking out of the theater after “The Realistic Joneses,” my thought was, “Ah, normal!”

***

Creative: Playwright – Will Eno; director – Richard Carlson; stage manager – Carol Jensen-Olson; tech director, lighting design – Carrie Counihan; set design – Ed DiMaio, Amanda Sallinen, Carol Jensen-Olson; sound design – Ed DiMaio, Dan Sallinen; props – Amanda Sallinen, Carol Jensen-Olson

Cast:

Jennifer Jones – Amanda Sallinen

Bob Jones – Dan Sallinen

John Jones – Marcel Bruyere

Pony Jones – Loretta Heath

Running time: Two hours, 8 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. June 22, 2 p.m. June 23, 7:30 p.m. June 28-29 and 2 p.m. June 30

Info: isadooratheatrecompany.com

***

NEXT: “The Moors” by Jen Silverman, Aug. 30-Sept. 1, Sept. 6-8.

VENUE: The space for Margaret Lockwood Gallery Inside/Out Theatre is a variation on black box theater. Some spaces are equipped for that style. This space is adapted to be a theater space. The ceiling is open with a steel beam and ventilation system metalwork. The floor is concrete. The space is in the lower level of the art gallery/studio, with the entrance along a winding sidewalk from the Michigan Street side of the building. The space is a kind of/sort of walk-in basement, though a step beyond that. Adjacent in a hallway are restrooms. For “The Realistic Joneses,” a door on a north interior wall leads to an imagined inside of a house. The hallway doubles as an imagined route to the neighborhood. The space suits theater that is especially up close and personal.

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