Arts preview: 'The Realistic Joneses'

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Shenise Brown and Bobby Loyd in CATCO's “The Realistic Joneses”

The two couples in playwright Will Eno's “The Realistic Joneses” have the same last name, live next door to each other in similar houses in the suburbs and are dealing with very similar life challenges. In many ways they're exactly the same.

But the ways in which each faces its challenges couldn't be more different, and that's where their lives begin to intertwine in ways that none of them could have predicted.

Joe Bishara, who directs “The Realistic Joneses” for CATCO (the production closes its run at the Studio One Theatre this weekend), called Eno a David Mamet or Sam Shepard for this generation. And in this play, Bishara said, Eno undertakes to tell this story of blithe suburbia in an absurdist, almost tragicomic fashion, while also showing compassion to his characters in their vulnerability.

“‘Everything is mortal,' is one of the lines of the play,” Bishara said. “The conflict that happens isn't between the people but between a person and their environment, their mortality. They're all just trying to make sense of the totality of it all.”

Once it becomes clear to the audience that each of the husbands in the play is dealing with a serious illness, Eno's comedy becomes at once less easy and more understandable.

“They're wrestling with the notion that their [problems] are not them and in the process they laugh at the absurdity of life,” Bishara said. “It's a fascinating study on being human.”

While the script does not designate the couples' racial identities, Bishara cast the younger Joneses as African-American, including Bobby Loyd as John Jones and Shenise Brown as Pony Brown. The result is more of the same-but-not-same dynamic.

“It's not important, but it is” that these characters are black, Brown said. “What it says is that, no matter what race you are, couples still go through the same things.”

Both husbands are dealing with an illness, but neither is talking about it with his wife. Bob and Jennifer Jones (Ralph E. Scott and Ella Palardi), a more mature couple, are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Bob doesn't want to talk about it while Jennifer intends to tackle the problem head-on. John Jones won't even tell his wife, despite repeated physical manifestations of his disease, because he fears she can't deal with the situation.

“Pony can be there for Bob in a way she can't for her own husband,” Brown said. “For her, John is a constant reminder that ‘what is' may not always be.”

Studio One Theatre, Riffe Center

Thursday-Sunday, March 22-25

77 S. High St., Downtown