The Realistic Joneses at Hyde Park Theatre

With Will Eno's comic drama, HPT brings a funny kind of fear to the 'burbs

Rebecca Robinson and Ken Webster (Photo by Katherine Catmull)

The backyard of a suburban home, complete with fence and swath of green grass. Two couples – one older and settled, one younger and new to the neighborhood. An attractive, ordered setting with a sense of ugly disorder lurking below the surface. Wait, haven't we been here before?

To anyone who saw the Capital T Theatre production of Lisa D'Amour's Detroit at Hyde Park Theatre in 2014, The Realistic Joneses may provoke an acute case of déjà vu. In locale and structure, Will Eno's comic drama is a twin to D'Amour's, and the set for HPT's staging echoes that of Cap T's Detroit, with Cap T Artistic Director Mark Pickell providing for HPT Artistic Director Ken Webster's show what designer Ia Ensterä did for his months ago: the rear view of a quintessential suburban tract house, conjured with a surprising expansiveness for the minuscule stage here and rendered in such detail that you can almost smell its manicured lawn.

But even if you didn't see the earlier show, you might well find the suburban setting for The Realistic Joneses eerily familiar: It's one we've been exposed to countless times before, in pop culture spanning Leave It to Beaver to American Beauty to Kirk Lynn's recent novel Rules for Werewolves, and, of course, for many people, it's just where they grew up. Eno makes it pleasant enough at first, with Bob and Jennifer Jones side by side in lawn chairs gazing at the night sky. But it isn't long before he cracks that tranquility, sowing hints of marital discord between the two, introducing neighbors John and Pony Jones (yes, they share the same surname) with an air of awkward intrusiveness, and revealing that Bob and John are both ill – indeed, are suffering from the same illness. This last may be Eno's cue that his play is about dis-ease, a lack of comfort in the place where one lives, in one's body, in one's life. What initially strikes us as a curious coincidence of names and maladies is perhaps just an extension of the sameness of suburbia, the lookalike subdivisions with their cookie-cutter domiciles inhabited by homogeneous nuclear families, headed by breadwinner dad and homemaker mom. It suggests that all these Joneses are interchangeable to a degree, at least where their discomfiture is concerned. They talk a lot about what scares them, and these fears weigh so heavily on them that at times Eno's play feels like a middle-class – and much more polite – reworking of A Delicate Balance, Edward Albee's ode to existential dread. Where the upper-crust East Coasters of that play swap scabrous insults as they talk their way around "the terror," the Flyover Country suburbanites here never poke a hole in one another's opinion or how it's stated without rushing in with an apology. ("Sorry" may be the play's most frequently used word.)

What we come to see is that these Joneses are all stuck: in their homes, their marriages, the way they connect (or mostly don't connect) with others. It's as evident in the faces here as in the characters' fractured, clumsy attempts to communicate. You see it in the tight-lipped glare of Webster's easily irritated Bob; the pleading look of Rebecca Robinson's increasingly exasperated Jennifer; the darting gaze of Jess Hughes' quizzical, quick-to-blurt Pony; the dimming light in the eyes of Benjamin Summers' downward-spiraling John. And the lack of movement in Webster's staging accentuates the sense of stasis.

This isn't to say that The Realistic Joneses is unrelievedly bleak. Eno's mastery at puncturing our linguistic follies shows in almost every exchange, and Webster knows how to mine it for laughs. (With this gifted a cast, it's no surprise that their efforts succeed consistently.) Still, beneath the comic quips of these Joneses, something deeper can be sensed: that yawning void that ultimately awaits us all and that leads critics to invoke the names of Beckett, Camus, and Ionesco when discussing Eno. Yes, we've been here before: It's the 'burbs, where every lawn backs up to the abyss.

The Realistic Joneses

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through March 26
Running time: 1 hr., 35 min.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Hyde Park Theatre
Review: Street Corner Arts' <i>Strange, But Perfect</i>
Street Corner Arts' Strange, But Perfect
World premiere is a delightful treatise on the stuff of which friends are made

Bob Abelman, Dec. 31, 2021

Hyde Park Theatre's <i>Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower</i>
Hyde Park Theatre's Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower
Maggie Gallant relates her search for her birth parents with slow-burn storytelling that captivates with its blend of cheekiness and honesty

Trey Gutierrez, Sept. 13, 2019

More Arts Reviews
Book Review: <i>Truckload of Art: The Life and Work of Terry Allen</i>
Book Review: Truckload of Art: The Life and Work of Terry Allen
New authorized biography vividly exhumes the artist’s West Texas world

Doug Freeman, April 19, 2024

Theatre Review: The Baron’s Men Presents <i>Romeo and Juliet</i>
Theatre Review: The Baron’s Men Presents Romeo and Juliet
The Curtain Theatre’s BYOB outdoor production is a magical night out

Cat McCarrey, April 19, 2024

More by Robert Faires
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Lessons and surprises from a career that shouldn’t have been

Sept. 24, 2021

"Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams" Tells the Story of an Artist
The first-ever museum exhibition of Daniel Johnston's work digs deep into the man, the myths

Sept. 17, 2021


Hyde Park Theatre, Ken Webster, Rebecca Robinson, Jess Hughes, Benjamin Summers, Will Eno, Mark Pickell, Capital T Theatre, Ia Ensterä

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle