Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
The Realistic Joneses
The play opens with a couple, Jennifer and Bob Jones, conversing haltingly while contemplating a quiet evening in their backyard. Bob is withdrawn, almost numb, while Jennifer exudes quiet desperation. At first, they appear to be spouses who have simply run out of things to say to one another. Suddenly, the sound of tumbling trash cans heralds the unexpected arrival of strangersthe Joneses' new neighbors Pony and John, who coincidentally share their surname.
Pony and John are as quirky as Jennifer and Bob are conventional. Glib and unfiltered, they say whatever comes into their heads; even when it makes no sense, they plunge ahead with merry abandon. Gobsmacked though they are, Jennifer and Bob seem almost relieved to have their stalled lives disrupted.
With good reason, we discover. Bob's numbness and Jennifer's anxiety are their responses to learning that Bob has an incurable degenerative disease. Although they moved to this community so he could receive treatment from the specialist who identified the syndrome, the prognosis is not optimistic. As the drama unfolds, we learn that John, despite his carefree demeanor, harbors a secret of his own, one that he is too afraid to disclose to his wife. Despite Pony's cheerful exterior, her underlying fragility is palpable. Instead, John confides in Jennifer, and they form an intimate bond.
Picking up on one another's deepest needs, Bob and Pony are drawn to each other as well. And in one of the play's most enjoyable scenes, Bob and John engage in some prickly male bonding while continually triggering the backyard's motion sensor light.
Under the direction of Daniel Kucan, A Public Fit gives Eno's exploration of the human condition a strong if imperfect production. For the most part, the cast is outstanding. Mike Rasmussen is brilliantly funny as Johnhis timing perfect, his face open and guileless as he pours out his stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Rebecca Reyes is remarkably honest and unaffected as Pony; on the surface, she is a sprite from outer space, yet there is a haunting fragility underneath. In the less loquacious role of Bob, Timothy Cummings finds eloquence in his character's pained body language and eyes shrouded in defeat. As Jennifer, the devoted wife-turned-caretaker, Tina Rice fares best in the quiet moments, particularly the scenes in which John is drawn to her empathy. When interacting with Bob, however, Rice overplays Jennifer's anxiety, fluttering like a distraught bird. This off note is noticeable only in contrast to the perfectly calibrated performances that surround her.
The production's only other weakness is pacing, and this is attributable largely to unduly complex set changes. Because so much of the play consists of short scenes separated by blackouts, the magical mood created by the actors is difficult to sustain in the face of lengthy interruptions. This is a significant challenge for any production of Eno's play, but some stagings work better than others. Here, every second that is devoted to unnecessary manipulation of scenery and props is a distraction, as are the anonymous white-jumpsuit-clad figures who handle these tasks, sometimes in blackouts, but sometimes in full view of the audience (even, in one instance, holding a screen door in front of Bob as he approaches the neighbors' house).
Other aspects of Kucan's staging are more successful. In particular, his use of projections (designed by Chloe Joy) helps to streamline the scene changes. John McClain's sound design is also effective. Both the visual and aural elements contribute to the sense of individual lives that are dwarfed by a grander scheme. The black box setting of CSN's Backstage Theatre heightens the intensity of the experience.
Like much of Thornton Wilder's work, Eno's writing supplies no easy explanations for the harsh events sometimes meted out by the fate. His characters simply learn to make peace with an uncertain universe, and marvel at its wonders.
The Realistic Joneses continues through May 7, 2017, Thursday-Saturday at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., at The Backstage Theatre, College of Southern Nevada, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., Suite P1A North Las Vegas. For tickets ($25; seniors and students $20) and further information, go to www.apublicfit.org. Stay after the show for The Buzzz, a moderated discussion of the play and its themes.