When a husband and wife meet their new next-door neighbors— a standard setup in pop culture theater— there’s a sly acknowledgment of how cliche this premise could be. In fact, both families in this production share the same surname: Jones.
Yet from this seemingly mundane concept springs forth The Realistic Joneses, at once surreal and wholly relatable.
Written by award-winning playwright Will Eno, the Toledo production stages on July 13 and 14 at the Village Players Theatre on Upton Avenue. Produced in collaboration with Actors Collaborative Toledo (ACT), the piece is being brought to life by veteran area director Nancy Wright.
“I’m not the original person to say this, but it is Samuel Beckett meets Seinfeld. It’s kind of an absurdist bit of humor,” Wright said in an interview. “You’re going to laugh out loud at some really weird things that happen in this play— weird, yet recognizable because this is how real people talk. There’s also something here that tugs at the heartstrings.”
A great response
Wright first encountered the play while working on the reading committee for ACT. “[ACT co-founder] Jeffrey Albright said, ‘Everybody’s gotta read this,’ all of us who were on the committee fell in love with it.”
Albright asked Wright if she would consider putting up a staged reading of the show for area audiences this past February. Held at Trinity Episcopal Church, the two performances saw a great response from attendees. “So Jeffrey said to me, ‘What do you think about finding a venue and doing a full production?’ And I said I’m on board!”
Wright is joined for this new production by both Derek Hansen (John) and Kate Abu-Absi (Jennifer), who are reprising their roles from the February reading, joined by new additions John Jennens (Bob) and Marissa Rex (Pony).
“This is an ensemble production— nobody’s the ‘star.’ Four characters with equal-sized roles and everybody is working together like a dream,” Wright said.
Familiar and bizarre
As befits a show that straddles the line between the familiar and the bizarre, the production side of the Village Players version of The Realistic Joneses will have bits that feel realistic combined with ones that reach into the surreal, Wright said.
“The staging is a little bit abstract. A lot of the action takes place in the backyard in the summer— which makes it a really good show to do in the summertime.”
But, Wright is quick to add, don’t let the more unusual aspects of the show shake you up. The name of the play is very deliberately chosen. “It’s called The Realistic Joneses because it is about real people. At first, it seems a little weird, and then you realize, this is how people talk, and this is how people don’t want to talk about things that are difficult to talk about,” Wright said.
“I hope [the audience] takes away from this that listening to each other and talking to each other— which is what these characters gradually come to do— is what gets us through the hard stuff in life.”