Review: The Realistic Joneses (Tarragon Theatre)

jenny_young_patrick_mcmanus_tom_barnett_susan_coyne_in_the_realistic_joneses_photo_by_cylla_von_tiedemann_-_3The Realistic Joneses is “funny” and “quirky”, on stage at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto

The opening night of Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses, currently at the Tarragon Theatre, had me laughing with its quirky dialogue, feeling for its desperate characters, and wondering exactly how many words make up a life. Judging by the triple-encore ovation at its conclusion, I would hasten to guess everyone else in the Tarragon Mainspace enjoyed it as well.

We open with husband and wife, Bob (Tom Barnett) and Jennifer Jones (Susan Coyne) sitting silent outside their rural house. Judging by his slight scowl and slumped appearance, Bob is uneasy about something. Jennifer, with a mild smile, appears to be enjoying the night. When they do finally speak, it is more a debate on the definition of talking as opposed to actually speaking about anything in general.

My parents have been married for almost 40 years, and I have witnessed this conversation many times in different forms. They focus more time speaking about tone and word choice, as opposed to what they specifically meant to converse about. Barnett and Coyne handled it so perfectly, I would have thought they had been together at least that long.

It was hilarious and also sets up their characters’ main conflict very well.

Continuing on, Bob and Jennifer’s “conversation” is interrupted by the garbage can tumbling antics of their new neighbours, dime-store philosopher John Jones (Patrick McManus) and his wife, speaks-with-no-filter Pony (Jenny Young), who moved into the oft-vacant house down the street.

Through their somewhat awkward first conversation, it is revealed that Bob has been diagnosed with a rare degenerative disorder and the doctor — its discoverer — has an office in town.

There is a fragility to these characters that is understandable at first, due to what they face, Bob’s illness for example. As the show progresses, their individual and collective loneliness and need for acceptance comes to the fore, with each Jones finding solace in unexpected places and with unexpected people.

A particular highlight was Bob and John’s nighttime conversation that was as funny as it was heartfelt. McManus played up John’s quirky conversational style to comedic effect, and Barnett used Bob’s vulnerability with both humour (his “dance” with the motion sensor light) and solemnity with his spooked reaction to John’s questions.

Another scene that resonated was when Jennifer was able to give John the overt comfort she so desired her own husband to openly crave, specifically from her. McManus’ unfiltered fear was matched with excellence by Coyne’s quiet, comforting embrace.

I give high marks for Will Eno’s script. The dialogue is deep, humourous, and, at points, disjointed in a realistic way. It is how people speak in real life. When Pony speaks, it is also nonsensical to comedic effect with kudos to Young.

Charlotte Dean’s set is simple enough to reflect the lifestyle of the characters, but also features certain pieces, such as a lamp and a squirrel, that add special notes to the show.

I especially liked Graeme S. Thomson’s lighting choices, specifically the stars, which gave the perfect sense of time and place.

My takeaway from The Realistic Joneses, comes from a poignant scene with the four sitting outside Bob and Jennifer’s house. John opines about how many words make up a life, is it billions? Or, as Pony offers, just one: life. I thought about this often in the hours after the show and into the next day.

Bob, Jennifer, John, and Pony relate to each other in an organic, dare I say, realistic way, being driven by their basic human needs. They are Joneses, but they are not trying to keep up with each other, so much as they are trying to keep each other up and alive. Real people trying to help real people. At times, it can be a tiresome task, but, much like The Realistic Joneses, it is worth the time.


  • The Realistic Joneses is playing until December 18, 2016 at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave.)
  • Shows runs Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:30pm, and an additional matinee on select Saturdays
  • Ticket prices range from $29 – $60, and are available online, or through the box office at (416) 531-1827

Photo of Jenny Young, Patrick McManus, Tom Barnett, and Susan Coyne by Cylla von Tiedemann