The Realistic Joneses at Park Square Theatre

Angela Timberman, J.C. Cutler, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil and Jane Froiland in The Realistic Joneses. Photo by Petronella Ytsma.

Angela Timberman, J.C. Cutler, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil and Jane Froiland in The Realistic Joneses. Photo by Petronella Ytsma.

Jane Froiland is in The Realistic Joneses (Park Square Theatre, through October 16). As always, she delights. She projects catchy breeziness, with a goofy smile and an energetic friendliness. All underlaid with real pain, loneliness and a shaky bitterness which she only occasionally, but dramatically, allows to percolate to the surface. More than any of the four characters in William Eno‘s The Realistic Joneses Froiland chafes against the vacuousness of her loveless marriage, the starry meaningless of her life out in the country.

Pain and loneliness are at the center of Eno’s play, a play I found in equal parts affecting and frustrating. Affecting because I felt it, felt the smallness of the characters as they looked up at the vast sweep of the overhead stars, their fitful attempts to make sense of their lives, to make meaningful connections, their silly attempts at lying. And frustrating because the play refuses to focus, to give a useable plot, and is filled with energy-sapping scene transitions (I’m developing a serious prejudice here, as I’m recently seen a number of plays which suffer severely from lonnnnnnng transitions).

Froiland’s wonderfulness is matched by the other actors. J.C. Cutler seems farther down the path to the grave than the other characters and they have to work harder to pull him back. I identified with his Bob – I’m getting older, I guess – and he delighted me. As did Angela Timberman, as Bob’s long-suffering wife Jennifer. Her confusion about what kind of life to live makes complete sense to me.

And Eric “Pogi” Sumangil as John-the-husband thrills. Is he a mindless hustler? Looking for love in all the wrong places? Does he love his wife? Is there a reason he pulls the other characters into such painfully Gumby-like positions? Or is he behaving with (normal, for him) stupidity? Sumangil and Eno, happily, refuse to define him.

At times, I wanted The Realistic Joneses to be funnier, and I wondered: should director Joel Sass have pumped the play up, given it a wilder, shriekier energy? Then I concluded that, no, such an approach would have lent The Realistic Joneses a silly thinness. Sass’s slower, more honest, richer approach was the right one.

Okay: the work of the terrific actors make this play worthwhile. So go, but don’t expect a perfect play. The Realistic Joneses is difficult material – and kudos to Park Square for taking it on.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His adaptation of The Sisters Eight will be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.


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