Brian Paulette and Ashley Pankow. Photo by Mike Tsai.
By Marissa Carter
The Kansas City Actors Theatre is wrapping up their 12th season with a bittersweet production of THE REALISTIC JONESES, and what a note to finish on. This show has a small cast, a simple set, and a big emotional impact.
In a small town not far from the mountains, two couples, both named Jones, meet for the first time. The couples are friendly in a guarded way, and this first awkward interaction is filled with an underlying tension that sets the tone for the rest of the show. The four Joneses are so different from each other that at first it seems like they will have trouble connecting. As the show progresses, however, we watch each person reveal their inner brokenness, and learn how their individual strengths will bind them together to help them through a difficult season in life.
This script is a work of art. Playwright Will Eno has done an excellent job of capturing the inevitability of life with equal measures of respect and irreverence. His quirky dialogue keeps the mood light throughout the show, which allows the audience to laugh out loud despite the tragic subject matter.
The cast does a good job bringing out the irony and humor of the script, giving us characters that show excellent contrast without creating clear heroes and villains. Carla Noack portrays Jennifer Jones with grace, dignity and quiet strength, while Ashley Pankow fills Pony Jones with energy, naiveté and intentional denial. Conversely, Phil Fiorini as Bob Jones is quiet, lovable and awkward while Brian Paulette brings a John Jones that is brash, funny, and bitingly sarcastic. The result is that all four characters are well-represented as tragic heroes in their own unique ways, and audience members get to relate to each of them on a completely different level.
The staging of the show is brilliant. Using a single backdrop, simple set pieces, and minimal scene changes, we are taken from one house to the other, indoors and outdoors, and even to the grocery store. Time is clearly marked throughout the show with clever lighting and subtle effects in the gorgeously painted backdrop. Visually, the entire team has done a remarkable job of emphasizing the central message of the show: life is beautiful despite its challenges.
THE REALISTIC JONESES is a slice of life type show that leaves you feeling as if you’ve just laughed through a funeral. There are many parts that are hard to understand at first since many questions are left unanswered, and audience members will need to decide for themselves what really happened, and, more importantly, how much that truth really matters.
THE REALISTIC JONESES runs through June 11, 2017, on the H&R Block City Stage in Union Station. For tickets and information, call the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222 or go to www.kcactors.org.