Edward Albee’s seminal drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? pits two couples — one older and embattled, the other young and corruptible — in a game of psychological and sexual oneupmanship, contained in the rarefied world of intellectual academia. Will Eno’s play The Realistic Joneses — one of the Discovery Series productions in WaterTower Theatre’s black box studio — is like the prosaic, middle-class companion piece to Albee’s masterpiece. While Woolf steers toward allegory, Joneses (no relation — I hope) bends toward dark absurdist comedy, a realm Albee himself would explore more directly in his career. It’s funny and strange.
Eno builds not just on Albee’s foundation, but on a subgenre of theaterworks set in suburban backyards that delve into the cookout culture of human rivalries (you often see them at Kitchen Dog, in shows like Barbecue Apocalypse and Detroit). Bob and Jennifer Jones (James Crawford and Diana Sheehan, pictured) are settled, but going through hard times as Bob has been riddled with health issues and takes out his frustration on everyone around him. They meet comparative newlyweds John and Pony (Justin Locklear and Martha Harms), younger but odd in their own way. John has had a few medical issues of his own, and his affect — non sequitur responses to inane chit-chat, a perversely unnerving bubbliness — suggest something mysterious. It’s a clash of generations, where both sides learn from the other but only in the most halting, desperate way. There’s a sadness and gloom to their lives amid all the silly humor, reality between the Dadaist moments.
Tight four-actor shows like this depend greatly on the ensemble, and these are some of the best in town at what they do. Locklear is North Texas’ most emotionally available young actor: Handsome but not intimidatingly so, with a lively energy. And this is easily Sheehan’s best performance to date. She bridges the divide between pulling of light-footed comedy and carrying the emotional heft of the show. Among all the quirkiness, she brings the most realism to these Joneses.
At the Addison Theatre Centre through April 10. WaterTowerTheatre.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2016.