For better or worse — usually worse — we spend our lives prisoners to the unkind twists and turns of fate. Or so Will Eno indicates in his odd, melancholy but strangely uplifting play The Realistic Joneses. “I don’t think anything good is going to happen to us,” one character muses near the end, yet he shrugs off this assessment in the only way possible: “But what are you gonna do?”
That sort of pragmatic mindset permeates The Realistic Joneses, which Fort Lauderdale’s Thinking Cap Theatre has tackled for its second production of the season (the first was the hilarious historical farce Or). Nominated for three Drama League Awards in 2014, Eno’s work is an inspired choice for the ambitious company, led by producing artistic director Nicole Stodard. The play, about two couples named Jones, deals with big topics: mortality; loneliness; the difficulties of real communication; how badly we need to be heard; how desperate we are to connect.
Despite its serious themes, though, The Realistic Joneses is also a deceptively funny play. Directed by Margaret Ledford, Thinking Cap’s production has the dexterity to reflect the contradictory emotions that run through Eno’s offbeat work, retaining a playful sensibility while preserving a sense of quiet impending doom.
As the play opens, Jennifer and Bob Jones (Casey Dressler, last seen in Thinking Cap’s unnerving A Map of Virtue and Mark Duncan, the company’s managing director and associate producer) are enjoying an evening in their back yard, gazing at the stars. Or perhaps “enjoying” isn’t the right word. There’s a chilly distance in their chat. Jennifer, clearly trying to be patient, points out that they don’t really talk anymore. “What are we doing right now, math?” Bob retorts.
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The evening is interrupted by two strangers, John and Pony Jones, who have moved in next door and have come over to introduce themselves, arriving with a bottle of wine and a friendly (if slightly off) vibe. John (Noah Levine) is a little goofy, a joker, a wisecrack ready every time he opens his mouth. Pony (Gretchen Porro) betrays a tendency toward the manic. They seem unlikely allies, especially once we learn Bob has a degenerative disease and is undergoing experimental treatment. But proximity is hard to ignore.
In lieu of a traditional dramatic structure, The Realistic Joneses offers up a series of vignettes after that first meeting, as the couples get to know each other (maybe a little too well). Alyiece Moretto’s set design creates a cozy intimacy, and the cast is terrific, deftly conquering the awkward stops and starts of Eno’s dialogue. Levine, so menacing in Thinking Cap’s A Map of Virtue, is especially adept at Eno’s rhythms and conveying the play’s growing sense of inevitability. Probably nothing good is going to happen to any of these Joneses. What are they gonna do? Keep living.
If you go
What: ‘The Realistic Joneses’ by Will Eno
Where: Thinking Cap Theatre at the Vanguard, 1501 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale
When: Through May 22. Thursdays and Fridays 8 p.m.; Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.; Sundays 5 p.m.
Tickets: $35; 813-220-1546 or thinkingcaptheatre.com