Review Roundup: ‘The Realistic Joneses’

The Realistic Joneses, Will Eno’s absurdist comedy-drama, opened at the Lyceum Theatre on April 6. The all-star cast consists of Emmy winner Toni Collette (Hostages, United States of Tara), Golden Globe winner Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under), Tony-winning actor and Pulitzer Prize-winner playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), and Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, The Wrestler). Obie winner Sam Gold (Picnic, Seminar, Circle Mirror Transformation) repeats his direction of the Yale production.

The play focuses on two suburban couples who have identical homes and the same last name. In addition, both husbands appear to be suffering from the same neurological disease. As their relationships intertwine, they must choose between idyllic fantasies and imperfect realities. This is Eno’s Broadway debut after Off-Broadway productions of his Thom Paine (based on nothing), Middletown, Title and Deed and The Open House.

Most critics acknowledged the author’s witty way with language, but ultimately found the play obscure. “Three-quarters of an hour into the 95-minute show, the script simply circles without deepening, darkening or clarifying,” complained Joe Dziemianowicz of the Daily News. All praised the efforts of the cast and director, but the majority expressed doubt that Broadway audiences would take to Eno’s weird and plotless work. Elysa Gardner of USA Today and Charles Isherwood of the New York Times were the only ones to be unreservedly enthusiastic. “For all the sadness woven into its fabric, The Realistic Joneses brought me a pleasurable rush virtually unmatched by anything I’ve seen this season,” Isherwood wrote. Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

The Realistic Joneses on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts star in ‘The Realistic Joneses’ on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Charles Isherwood, New York Times
“Plays as funny and moving, as wonderful and weird as The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno, do not appear often on Broadway. Or ever, really. You’re as likely to see a tumbleweed lolloping across 42nd Street as you are to see something as daring as Mr. Eno’s meditation on the confounding business of being alive (or not) sprouting where only repurposed movies, plays by dead people and blaring musicals tend to thrive.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“It’s funny how trying to connect with neighbors, spouses, God, whomever, can lead you nowhere. Will Eno takes that idea and runs with it in The Realistic Joneses, an anxious comedy that packs rueful zingers, four first-rate starry performances and—buzzkill time, kids—diminishing returns for the entire second half.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“The show starts off strong before running in circles, leaving you wondering what the point was, exactly.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“The humor is unconventional and gets tiresome by the second half. Sometimes it feels like a long intellectual version of the old ‘Who’s on First’ routine. It may have been more fun to write than see.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“Provocative playwright Will Eno, whose dry and odd work has tended to cause the theatrical equivalent of fistfights Off-Broadway, has come to Broadway with a macabre and melancholy yet strangely delightful comedy. Directed by Sam Gold with expert ominous playfulness, the 95-minute domestic mystery has a terrific quartet of famous actors and a bit more palpable heart than usual.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Using the intriguingly offbeat dialogue that is his hallmark—full of non sequiturs and blunt but often contradictory remarks that both evoke natural speech and lend a slightly surreal quality—Eno draws his four characters to each other in ways that, however predictable, movingly emphasize the ultimate commonality of the human condition.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“While the play is stuffed with droll wordplay and wry comic observations that hit the mark, you can also feel much of its humor and poetry not quite landing—getting lost in the airy space of a large auditorium. A work in which the awkwardness of intimacy is a key theme might seem more at home someplace cozier.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“The all-star cast not only brings out character nuances that would be lost in a less savvy production, they might even manage to keep the house open for much if not most of the show’s limited run. But word is bound to get out that Eno’s tragi-comic sensibility is hard to digest for anyone who hasn’t already acquired a taste for it.”

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly
“Alas, nothing ensues or unfolds, which makes for an excruciatingly long 90 minutes (despite director Sam Gold’s snappy pacing). As Jennifer says dejectedly to her husband, ‘We’re—I don’t know—throwing words at each other.” Like the dead squirrel, that line comes in the first few minutes. Who could guess it would be a harbinger of things to come?”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“The actors are excellent, playing the minimalist music of the lines without losing warmth or individuality; if it’s possible to make us care deeply about characters intentionally fashioned as gnomic ciphers, these fine performers come closest. Whether or not you share Eno’s severe, brittle and frankly despairing view of existence, there’s much to savor: the dry but meaningful banter, the joy of humans sharing time and space, battling the darkness with a joke or silence.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“Under Sam Gold’s direction, the alphabetically billed Collette, Hall, Letts and Tomei are collectively giving it their best shot. Unfortunately their best is not good enough. The Realistic Joneses from the highly regarded (though not necessarily by me) Will Eno is an example of that wise old saying, ‘There’s less here than meets the eye.’”

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