You’ve got to be quite clever with wordplay to keep up with the Joneses.
“I’m in love with the language in this play,” said Merritt Olsen, who is directing “The Realistic Joneses,” which opens Nov. 11 at Rochester Repertory Theatre.
The play, by Will Eno, is about two couples, Bob and Jennifer Jones and their new neighbors John and Pony Jones, who live next door to each other. The two men in the play are suffering from varying degrees of neurological disease.
Olsen, a recent transplant to Rochester from the Seattle area, said he first came across Eno’s play while browsing in a New York bookstore. “I read it, and I was laughing and enjoying the language,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be laughing at this stuff. It’s dealing with life and death’.”
John Jones, in particular, is losing his facility with language as he enters early dementia. “The power of that is heartbreaking, and yet is extremely funny at the same time,” Olsen said.
Olsen was so taken with Eno’s play that, when he was offered a chance to direct a show at the Rep, he kept coming back to “The Realistic Joneses” as his first choice — even though he’s occupying the slot on the Rep’s schedule normally reserved for a Christmas show.
“I think this play needs to be done,” he said. “It’s going to be like something folks haven’t seen before. He (Eno) is a unique voice in American theater.”
With that in mind, Olsen had a specific trait in mind when he auditioned actors. “I was looking for actors who love language,” he said.
The cast consists of Chad Campbell, Mallory McKay, Amanda Ruggeri, and Angus Russell. “I couldn’t be happier with the cast I’ve got,” Olsen said. “We have a wealth of talent in Rochester.”
The Nov. 12 performance will be followed by a panel discussion on art and dementia with the cast and health care professionals.
If you go
What: “The Realistic Joneses”
When: Nov. 11 through Dec. 4. Performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Dec. 4.
Where: Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh St. NE
Tickets: $22 adults, $20 senior citizens and students ($18 on Thursdays)