Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Realistic Joneses
Also see Billy's review of Gruesome Playground Injuries and Dean's review of Bad Jews
Two couples, both named Jones, meet cute when the younger set drops by with a bottle of wine. The older Joneses have been sitting outside, trying to talk to each other. With the four together, the talk is stop and go: funny and awkward, trivial and serious. At one point, the younger couple is inside the older couple's house, using separate bathrooms; the older couple is outside, silently but clearly wondering what the hell just happened. This might be one of the first glimmers of meaning in this very funny play.
There are other clues, or are they red herrings? The bottle of wine remains undrunk; a lamp is garbage to one couple, a great find to the other; no one can name the constellations that have glimmered above them their whole lives. Your guess is as good as mine.
With playwright Eno, it's all about the language and the rhythm and so the actors' choices loom large. Debi Kierst's choices seem the most "realistic" as Jennifer Jones, who is coping with her husband Bob Jones's (Shangreaux Lagrave) illness and decline. Her determination to be his patient, perfect caretaker is at odds with her independent nature. Bob's growing memory loss also frustrates her need for validation as his long-suffering wife. Jennifer's growing relationship with John Jones (Ryan Jason Cook) confuses her. Kierst lets us see it all.
Lagrave as Bob has a droll sense of humor quickly lost in the fog of his medications. But Bob is anything but a zombie. Shafts of emotion and glints of clarity cut through the haze. Through the playwright's language, Lagrave lets us be surprised by flashes of poignancy. (This aspect of Lagrave's performance is literally highlighted in a hilarious scene when Bob sneaks up to John's back door while trying not to set off the motion detector on the outside light.)
Aleah Montano (Pony Jones) goes the way of the self-absorbed young female when I wanted her to make a different choice, to be willingly in the dark, not just out of the loop. She gets a lot of funny, ditzy lines, and Pony doesn't understand axioms and gestures in the same way the older Joneses do. It makes for a good comic role.
Cook as John has a way of coping with life that reminds you of the class clown, the one who's covering up like crazy. And crazy he seems, with a discursive way of talking and weird body language. I last saw Cook in a comic/criminal role in Arsenic and Old Lace at ALT, and he always seems to be an unexploded land mine. It's lurking there, beneath the surface, don't step on it. His contained energy, control, and comic timing are marvelous, and just right for John. This is a wonderful performance.
The Joneses exist on their small islands, on a fragmented set surrounded by darkness. If you get the feeling there is something out there that is vast and uncaring, you'd be right. From the first scene, we feel each other's loneliness, and our own. In the last scene, we get the message that all we can do is rub up against each other in the dark. If that's life, I want a triple dose of what Bob's having.
Through October 15, 2017, The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE, (505) 247-8600, vortexabq.org, Friday-Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m., $22 General admission, $15 Students.