The Realistic Joneses face the existential dread of suburbia | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The Realistic Joneses face the existential dread of suburbia

Playwright Will Eno establishes himself as the Beckett of the backyard.

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A cavernous lyricism gives Will Eno's wry, deadpan, seemingly inconsequential plays their near debilitating resonance and often gets the Brooklyn-based playwright anointed the Next Beckett. And this coy, static backyard drama, which marked Eno's Broadway debut in 2014, certainly has a Beckettian flavor. Two married couples named Jones—one a decade or so younger than the other—mostly dither and stall and circumvent their way through several banal days, always peculiarly on edge as though some undefinable, momentous threat is perpetually in the offing. It's easy to imagine Eno has essentially substituted Beckett's postwar existential void with the anomie of contemporary suburban America.

But as the performances in director Jeremy Wechsler's gentle yet rigorous staging make clear, the four Joneses run not from indeterminacy but from excessive certainty. Marriages don't last, passion leads to nothing, and death is everywhere. Yet facing such despair amid middle-class comfort, their uncalibrated fears find only meager expression: the language of daily life perpetually fails them, and nearly everything said is subject to rapid revision, reversal, or retraction. It's as though they're flinging empty words at a world that isn't adequately tragic to cast their lives into clear relief.

It's Chekhov's world, where the struggle to matter is a sad farce, and this Shattered Globe-Theater Wit coproduction astutely and affectingly captures its myriad gray tones. The cast is uniformly excellent—so good that, for once, everyone onstage is working with as many cylinders firing as the always outstanding H.B. Ward.   v

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