By Bob Evans
When stricken by a strange, rare, fatal disease, words matter–especially when words and communication seem to one of the symptoms as the disease overtakes its victims–and leads them unknowingly to their doom.
Kansas City Actors Theatre opened their newest production, “The Realistic Joneses” by Will Eno, on May 26 on City Stage on the lower level of Kansas City’s historic Union Station, to an enthusiastic audience response to the season ending play. “The Realistic Joneses” brings in lots of comedy from simple words and exchanges as the play develops.
Bob and Jennifer Jones, (Phil Fiorini and Carla Noack) a middle aged couple attempt conversation in a funny, charming, awkward exchange to open the play. It’s not long until the audience realizes that Bob struggles with conversation and his attempts to engage demonstrate his difficulty and point to his disability.
Bob suffers from a rare disease that robs him of his social skills and slowly takes away his ability to interact in a socially acceptable way. Jennifer has left her job to care for him and guide him as he slowly slips away. The beauty of the piece is the words and expression as the couple experiences the isolation and loneliness that accompany the disease. The couple has had a long marriage and interact mostly with silent interaction. Jennifer’s attempts to engage Bob in oral conversation become more and more difficult as he socially and verbally declines. Jennifer needs conversation and social interaction, but it only frustrates Bob who does not and cannot understand. His dialogue and one simple answers is like the raw personality of the ID. There is no filter, so his words are flat and non-emotional. They are brutally honest because he cannot filter them.
Most lines elicit laughter from awe from the audience as the exchanges are hilarious in their awkwardness. Bob’s answers are honest but sometimes inappropriate, but certainly not mean-spirited. That brings the laughs…lots of them and sets the audience up for the serious changes to come.
Next door, a genuine nerd, John Jones (Brian Paulette), seems to have no job, no ambition, and no one to understand his plight. Coupled with his “brain dead” wife, Pony,–yes, Pony–he longs for inclusion, understanding, and comfort. Pony (Ashley Pankow) is dim-witted and gloriously spacey. Pankow’s character delivers the best line in the show when in a serious conversation about needing more from her life exclaims, “I don’t know if I should become a doctor or get my hair cut.”
“The Realistic Joneses” presents several scenes with each character paired with the other three. Each pairing allows the deeper layers of each character to display their inner needs and fears of the unknown. They all experience loneliness, fear, isolation, and hopelessness. What’s charming and endearing in the script is the apt word choice of the playwright coupled with the characterization brought from the exquisite cast.
Eno’s script with the direction of John Rensenhouse just springs from the stage with each line and interpretation. Rensenhouse could not have created a more perfect cast. Each of the four brings a new character for the audience to enjoy. Careful character development and wonderfully crafted scenes allows each of the ensemble to demonstrate their acting strengths. The blockbuster cast and charming characters create theater magic for the one-act play.
Phil Fiorini sets the humorous tone from his first words. His character is finely tuned and evolves through the play as more and more about his condition comes to light. His condition is similar to an Asperger Syndrome victim in that he does not socially interact and takes conversation as stated, not as intended. Carla Noack, as his wife sees her husband’s decline and struggles to cope as the loneliness and isolation grows. She is the balance of the play and navigates through the other characters’ problems with a beautifully structured character.
The other couple allows Brian Paulette to gift the audience with a nerdy character that spouts random and many times inappropriate responses. Most responses to dialogue unveil his strange nature. His character is funny, quirky, and charming with a darker and darker twist. And, then Ashley Pankow presents the most vapid blonde since the days of Marilyn Monroe and Judy Holiday. Pony doesn’t appear to have a cognizant thought but suffers the same sense of loneliness, despair, and isolation of the other three characters. Pankow is brilliant in her character delivery
While the play begins with lots of comedy, it shifts gears after a dead squirrel appears on the scene. Still, humor and drama interspersed throughout the play keeps the audience engaged, laughing while the plot gets deeper and darker. The show runs under two hours without an intermission.
Overall, the cast, direction, lighting, and all technical crews for KCAT productions continue to maintain the highest standards. This play is no exception. Expect to be wowed by the play and the performances. The show runs two more weeks. Tickets may be purchased through the Kansas City Actors Theatre website.
Tags: Kansas City Actors Theatre, Union Station, City Stage, “The Realistic Joneses’, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment