I walked out of the Lyceum Theatre thinking that I had just spent what amounts to a buck a minute on a rotten piece of ephemera – like that dead squirrel Tracy Letts picks up and throws into a trash bag, or the spoilt food Michael C. Hall takes out of the refrigerator – with little else but these few words of mine to show for it. If only that food had been served hot. If only the squirrel had lived. If only. Or maybe not.
I don’t get it. No, I take that back. I didn’t get anything from it. No, that’s not it, either. I didn’t really like it is more like it, really. Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses, I mean. It’s one of those plays that are nothing more than wordplay. The Jonesesaren’t really Realistic. That much I got, and not much else. The characters are just worders, if that’s the word for it. If it were a word. They are not word made flesh. I’m not sure whether they are mouthpieces because I’m not sure what they were meant to mouth, other than that we are mostly words to one another. Words that are no reliable access to thought or feeling, that are no substitute for flesh, for sensations and experiences. A playwright who says as much as that – or as little – has got a real challenge. But that may be too charitable a word for a playwright’s “I’ve got nothing, really.”
The Realistic Joneses, to me, is a bad play. Even the wordplay isn’t that good. It is of a sitcom caliber, and the characters are a bunch of near flatlining oneliners. I mean, “Ice cream is a dish best served cold”? Seriously, is that bit of lame rhetoric – a cliché made obvious as a commonplace – a substitute for a plot twist? I didn’t feel the play was a moving comment on the increasingly disembodied state of twenty-first century humanity, much less a sensitive portrait of toxic malaise. I didn’t feel. That’s just it.
The Realistic Joneses is a play on the hollowness of words, and I don’t feel that that is a dramatically satisfying point to make in a play. Not even for the middle-aged with a nostalgic yearning for some old-fashioned post-modern self-reflexivity. Well, post-modernism isn’t what it used to be because it just isn’t anymore. Or oughtn’t to be. The tongue has to come out of the cheek eventually, and it has to learn to speak again and say something other than, say, “What’s there to say?” Not just some piffle passing for the absurd. To me, surrealism isn’t anything goes nothing, at least not in the theater.