Staged readings can feel like a strange ghost of a show. There’s no set. No costuming. Maybe the occasional prop. There’s a cast and a script and an audience. Even without all of the rest of it, a staged reading is just a different kind of theatre. Intricacies of a script can get lost and amidst all of the elements of full-fledged production. Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses is alive with the kind of intricacy that can make for an entertaining staged reading. The strangely idiosyncratic suburban two-couple drama’s symphony of non sequiturs resonates through an intimate space courtesy of four actors and four music stands. Audience and actors spend a little over an hour and a half hanging out with four characters who stumble through getting to know each other in various ways.
Ensconced in the pleasantly residential East Side, a cozy, little corner of the Plymouth Church plays host to a story set somewhere in the American suburbs. David Ferrie and Sandra Hollander play an older couple who find themselves getting acquainted with a younger couple who have just moved into the neighborhood, played by Ericka Wade and Matt Specht.
Sandra Hollander radiates warmth and patience in the role of Jennifer—a woman dealing with an increasingly scattered husband. He’s not working. She’s taking the time to try to get to know him a bit better after a busy life spent together. Hollander has a beautiful voice that lends a great deal of personality to the reading without overpowering the rest of the cast. Jennifer is happy to have new neighbors. Her enthusiasm isn’t exactly shared by her husband.
David Ferrie crafts a charmingly dense personality for Jennifer’s husband Bob. Time is beginning to catch-up with him as he finds himself less and less capable of communicating directly with the outside world. Bob’s fractured connection with the world provides some of the more endearingly comic moments in the play. Ferrie cleverly navigates his way around a character who doesn’t seem to understand how little he’s actually connecting with the world outside his head. It’s a delicate performance. Ferrie clearly respects the guy he’s playing or the character wouldn’t come across anywhere near as human as he does.
Ericka Wade has sparklingly witty comic instincts as Bob and Jennifer’s new neighbor Pony. She’s both fragile and volatile--someone who can’t seem to find the proper footing in her life or relationship with her husband. There’s an occasionally explosive anger in the character that might run the risk of coming across as like a sexist temperamental woman stereotype. Wade builds Pony’s anger around a very poised and structured intellect that supports a sophisticated and deeply funny character.
Matt Specht plays Pony’s husband John. He’s an industrious guy looking for freelance work of some sort. Eno lends John the strangest end of his humor, which could be read in a million different ways that would all be totally consistent with the character and the rest of the cast. Specht goes for a remarkably straightforward delivery of John’s lines. Awkwardly missed communication fits Specht’s portrayal of John in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it seems like John isn’t understanding basic elements of conversation. Sometimes it only SEEMS like he is for comic effect. Through it all, Specht comes across as a nice guy, which goes a long way towards rounding out a completely likable cast.
Boulevard Theatre’s staged reading of The Realistic Joneses runs through May 18 at Plymouth Church on 2717 E. Hampshire St. For more information, visit Boulevard online.