‘The Realistic Joneses’ a play that will grab you

Published 10:55 am Thursday, February 22, 2018

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Over here are the Joneses, Bob and Jennifer. Over there are the Joneses, John and Pony.

They’re very different. John talks in circles and can be abrupt and annoying. Pony is scared of everything — germs, illness, confrontation, the truth.

Bob is very ill and in denial. Jennifer is an overactive caregiver who’s just about at the end of her rope.

Spend an evening with the Joneses at “The Realistic Joneses” at Lee Street theatre. Afterward, you will wonder what just happened, you’ll worry about how things will turn out, and the formerly annoying people have become endearing, somehow.

Billed as a comedy and written by Will Eno, the play is at times quite funny, at others, bewildering, irritating and heartbreaking — unlike anything seen on the many stages of Rowan County.

The actors are just about flawless. Chalk that up to experience for three of them; the fourth is a newcomer. And as part of the CataLst arrangement, the play is directed by Catawba College student Peyton Glendinning. With the excellent cast, it’s hard to tell how much is her influence, but it all goes smoothly, although it’s a very up-and-down story.

Craig Kolkebeck, the artistic director for Lee Street, plays Bob, who has a rare disease for which there are many treatments but no cure. He’s not working but sitting at home, thinking. Or trying not to think.

Kindra Steenerson, an actress, director and teacher, is Jennifer, a strong woman doing the best she can but feeling lost, ignored, on edge.

Their relationship is authentic. Jennifer wants to know everything she can about the disease. Bob doesn’t want to know anything. In fact, when he has a doctor’s appointment, he suggests she go and he’ll stay home.

One night as they sit not talking in their backyard, they hear a noise, and in pops their new neighbors John and Pony, uninvited, with a bottle of wine. They speak cryptically, never quite answering direct questions, challenging what Bob and Jennifer say. After that first scene, Bob and Jennifer, as well as the audience, are thinking, “What was that all about?”

Matthew Monte, who has played all kinds of parts on the Lee Street stage, seems perfectly comfortable as the slightly askew John. He easily switches from mood to mood to mood in every conversation, sometimes making sense, sometimes bewildering the person he’s talking to. He’s angry, tender, caring, not caring, smart, closed-off.

Young Alyssa Whiting is his cute, odd wife, Pony. She is jittery, fidgety. She wants to talk about something — no, she doesn’t talk about that. She’s afraid and needy, but stand-offish and evasive.

In other words, these are more like real people, with their fears and dreams and angers and hopes. Are they honest with each other? Not really. Are they honest with themselves? No. None of them, not even the self-assured Jennifer.

It’s hard to describe what happens, but it’s a lot. The plot is meandering but compelling. You’ll feel angry, then sad, then tickled, bemused.

The players have perfect timing. They react naturally to each other, as if they are the Joneses and the Joneses.

Don’t go with a lot of expectations, but go to listen and digest. This play is one you’ll think about long after and want to talk over with your version of the Joneses.

“The Realistic Joneses” continues at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24 and March 1-3 at Lee Street theatre. Tickets are $15 and may be reserved by calling 704-310-5507 or going to www.leestreet.org.

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