In this 4-part Inside series, PerformInk Kansas City takes you behind the scenes of Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of THE REALISTIC JONESES through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past Inside articles click here.
By John Rensenhouse, Director.
THE REALISTIC JONESES, by Will Eno, has been described as a Samuel Beckett play for the Jon Stewart generation. I like to think of Mr. Eno as a 21st century American incarnation of Harold Pinter. Either way, you get a good idea of the ballpark this play is bandying about in. Seemingly small and mundane but holding enormous undertones. Mr. Eno’s is a truly unique voice on the landscape of American theater and I am thrilled that Kansas City Actors Theatre is able to share it with our community.
But, oh, it could go so wrong! It is scary and intimidating to prepare for a production of a play such as this. It is amazingly delicate. The play is labeled a comic drama. The drama coming from its central subject – dying and death. The comedy coming from the quirky but recognizably human ways the characters communicate with each other. My overriding concern going into rehearsals is how to achieve the perfect balance of this comedy and drama that will allow this play to work its peculiar and heavenly magic.
First, there was the casting. I felt very strongly that I needed to get actors who are innately comic. The comedy needs to come naturally and without strain because the play is, as the title might suggest, largely realistic. This is not a door-slamming farce or a situational comedy loaded with jokes. I needed actors who could, with a wry turn of phrase or just by being themselves, bring a grin of surprise and delight. And I got them. I’m very pleased with the cast of Brian Paulette, Carla Noack, Ashley Pankow, and Phil Fiorini and trust they will be able to leaven this dark subject matter.
Then there were the design consultations. My conversations with all the designers (set, lights, sound, props, costumes) have centered around the task of blending the simplicity of the situation with the large and complicated concerns of the theme. I want to emphasize the vastness of this piece and have probably used this word, ‘vast’, far too many times in my discussions. But for me, the smaller, realistic parts of this play are going to be the easier side to tap into. It is the larger vision that we must take pains to bring forth. Though this play may seem to be a fairly typical backyard chat sort of thing, I want to immediately turn the eyes and ears of the audience on to the deeper, larger things that seem to be roaming around in Mr. Eno’s head. I’m pleased with the set we have landed on and am very excited by some of the sound and light ideas that are cropping up.
And soon we will begin rehearsals. My intention, as the director, is to put the focus squarely on the words and the silences. Maybe more on the silences. I want to lead the cast in the deepest exploration possible of what is transpiring between these people. There’s not much blocking. The scene transitions will be swift and minimal. We just want to find out what’s going on in the hearts and minds of these characters. This script is all about how we communicate, or fail to communicate, with our loved ones about the one thing we all have in common. I expect it to be a good cleansing, of sorts, and hopefully an exhilarating one.
Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of THE REALISTIC JONESES by Will Eno will begin previews on May 24th and continue its run through June 11th at the H&R Block City Stage at Union Station. Performance and ticket info at www.kcactors.org or 816-235-6222.