Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thinking Outside The Box with Theater

I love theater. In some ways, I'm a theater junkie. Being transported away while sitting in that dark room during a play or musical is like a drug. But like everyone, I too have things that I like and that I don't like. So let me go on record as saying I'm not big on experimental theater that one usually finds in some small space down in the village of New York City. (Once I watched a person get dressed on stage and THAT was their 'art'.) I've heard so much about The Realistic Joneses and was actually nervous about going into the Lyceum Theatre because of how it has polarized audiences.

Put me on the list with Charles Isherwood of the New York Times. I really enjoyed this wild, quirky world of playwright Will Eno. I didn't know this man who had previously been a finalist for the pulitzer prize, but have heard much about him. It's his world, and we're all just there to experience it. His latest (that would usually not find a home in a Broadway theater) introduces two couples that are neighbors -both with the last name of Jones. When the couple first meet, we feel we are witnessing a witty comedy that kept the audience laughing and sometimes missing the return line. There is amazing joy and life coming from the faces of some of the characters on stage. But the piece turns into something darker and stranger and I was very intrigued. 

If you love dark comedy movies, then Eno's work is for you. He has his own pace in a show, keeping this at 90 minutes, but creating small scenes that often end with a line that smacks you in the face and causes you to go "hmmmmm." The dialogue feels as if a group of people are sitting around drunk or high as they try to address the greater issues of life. Other playwrights have traveled into the world of existentialism, but Eno has given a reason of two of the characters suffering from a health disorder to explain away some of the actions we witness on stage. I don't want to give away what the show is about except that it's two couples meeting for the first time as neighbors. While I did (at times) feel the show got stuck and could have moved - it was never long enough to make me think about my 'to do' list for the next day. Not with this cast!

What a cast it is! I have never seen a more committed set of actors on stage that totally believed every carefully chosen word coming out of their mouths. The quick witted volley among them all is amazing. Three 'Hollywood' actors that are just as comfortable on stage and one theater actor that gives new meaning to the words 'deadpan delivery'. Toni Colette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei are all incredible in this show directed by Sam Gold. Each of them with their own set of quirks, ticks, oddities - but all covering a deeper pain. The pain of the disorder that is eating away at two of them. The pain of the caregivers, frightened by what's in store. Death and the unknown looming over the stage dark and vast as the set designed by David Zinn. There is no way I could chose a favorite
performance in this group which is why I was thrilled the Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble went to them because they are all equally wonderful. Toni Colette grounds the show in her natural performance while Tomei gives us offbeat and endearing. Michael C. Hall is allowed to run the gamut of emotions and we get to go with him. And Letts - I'm in awe of and in love with the man that is not pushed into one box: a Tony Award winning actor and a pulitzer prize winning playwright. (Only three years my senior, I'd kill for his career!)     

So do I believe this play is for everyone? No, I don't. Even among my own theater-going friends - we do not all agree. And obviously the Tony committee felt it wasn't Broadway worthy...snubbing them from every category. (I did see it the night the nominations came out and this cast did not let it faze them a bit.) But I am so glad I didn't listen to the naysayers and stay away from this show. My own website says I don't believe in staying in one box and told I have to do something a certain way. Thank you, Mr. Eno for bringing that concept to the masses. Thank you to the producers for taking a chance and not allowing the 'will the tourist come?' be the reason to bring a show to Broadway. And thank you to the audiences that are going to this show and allowing themselves to experience a show with a structure unlike the other plays they have seen for years - but can be just as powerful. Even the day after, the themes and questions in this show - told in such a unique way - still have a hold on me.


  1. Replies
    1. Haha! And therein lies the beauty of theater. :-)

    2. I loved it. I like a strong dose of pessimistic realism, especially when it comes with a spoonful of sugar (the jokes, the cast, the banter...). Loved it.

    3. STRONG DOSE - good choice of words, Pamela! :)