Thursday, 14 December 2017

Beauty & the Beast a love-in of fun, festivity

All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Likely no question my wife and I were the only viewers at the Stanley last night who have never seen Disney's iconic Oscar-winning 1991 cartoon flik. Neither any of ACT's four previous mounts of this show. Thus except for the movie duet with Peebo Bryson-&-Celine Dion, its music was as foreign to us as its Grimm-like plot line.

The villain Gaston (Kamyar Pazandeh) threatens to make Belle's life grim by killing the Beast after hoisting a few Buds with his buds. But of course Disney Studios would never allow that to happen. 
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
For others equally dim about all this, a Plot Quicky helps and won't be too hairy to sum up : Snotty prince disses a witch. She curses him. Makes him into a bearded Minotaur. Gives him a magic rose whose petals will all fall off and petrify him forever in his beastliness. Unless he finds a way to give someone love and be loved in return. 

The prince's household staff are cursed, too : in the ten years since the witch's visit they are all slowly being transmogrified into household objects like a teapot, a featherduster, a wind-up clock. Like Beast, their fate threatens to be permanent. Entre Belle, a beauty who gets caught up in palace politics saving her eccentric Dad from attacking wolves. Will she learn to love the Beast, and he her before the last petal drops?

What the show brings to the stage : Fact is the premise of La Belle et la Bete (as originally scripted in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) is downright off-putting. Princeton University's WordNet dictionary links two definitions associated with la Bete : "the stupid brutal quality of a beast" and "unnatural attraction, including sexual, to a beast".

So p.c. trigger warning called for : viewers have to overcome innate prejudicial distate for beastly conduct. Hard to do when one covers up the chin whiskers on the program graphic and the remaining image is a dead ringer for a certain Twit next door who thrives on fake news. 

The way to sidestep one's anti-beastie bias, however? Not hard at all this theatre season. It'll happen just like magic through this magnificent Arts Club show, no question. Make the beast look less Washington, D.C. horror-show. Make him more like your hippie uncle Herbie who lives in the wilds outside Nelson. Put a suit on him and the possibility of true love flowering between him and Belle (syn : goddess, enchantress) soon takes root.  

Prince Beast (Jonathan Winsby) gulps back soup squatting on his throne while Belle (Shannon Chan-Kent) looks on more than a bit stupefied at his table manners.
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
Production values that shine through Spectacle is what the stage show is all about, and spectacle the Bill Millerd production delivers in spades. It's a roundhouse flurry of costumes, music, lights, sets, staging and absolutely eye-popping choreography.

With no comparators in memory to clutter up the mind, the expression "you never have a second chance to make a first impression" was never more applicable than here.

Alison Green's set with its numerous fly's and scrims and scenery wagons was a compleat envelopment of the sumptuous Stanley stage. Coupled with Gerald King's richly inventive lighting design the effects are dazzling and enchanting.

Then there's Barbara Clayden's captivating and dare I say? bewitching costumes dozens and dozens over for the 20 characters who roam and romp and rollick up, down, over-&-around the kinetic sets from castle to townsite to woods for two mesmerizing hours.

Mesmerizing in large measure because of choreographer Scott Augustine's re-do for the show of local wizard Valerie Easton's 2008 fancy footwork. [See addendum.] First there's Gaston's beer stein swillery antics pictured up top. Then comes the "Be Our Guest" caper of the troupe with knives & forks & plates & platters busting out of them all over not to mention their folies bergere kick-up that was clockwork perfect. Truly a hoodoo of wonder and amazement to watch and cheer to as the opening night did with gusto! causing a wee delay in the onset of Act 1's closing scenes.

Absolutely terrific co-ordination of the off-stage orchestra with the on-stage action. Of the band, Henry Christian's trumpet, once again, proves how crisp and heavenly that horn can be.

And speaking of sound, Chris Daniels' sound design was not just notable but embracing. Never in any ACT performance has the amplification of singers' voices with live orchestra been more stunning on the ears : every lyric and word heard perfectly, no drowning out by the band. 

Acting pin-spots : Fewer "pin spots" to note than full-on kliegs and floods for the whole ensemble. But as the muscly bully Gaston, Kamyar Pazamdeh was acting buff writ large made the more spoofy by Vincent Tong's priceless turn as his sidekick LaFou. 

Chief of staff Cogsworth (Shawn Macdonald) is morphing into a grandfather clock while Lumiere (Peter Jorgensen) grows candelabra hands. Pops Maurice (Bernard Cuffling) is a bit of an addlepated inventor and doofus who is catalyst to his daughter's capture of the Beast's heart, and he hers. Just in time.
Photo credit : Emily Cooper.
Shannon Chan-Kent's Belle was charm personified opposite Jonathan Winsby's complex and compelling Beast.  Not possible to review the show without mentioning butler Peter Jorgensen's Lumiere with his faux Peter Sellers doing faux French. Just a riot. But magnified deliciously by the skippery scantering Shawn Macdonald appearing once again as chief-of-staff Cogsworth in a role delivered more Clockwork Orange than Piaget. Pure delight the two of them riffing off one another. 

Who gonna like : This section should be re-named Who not gonna like and it would be over in a heartbeat. Must say in six years doing BLR I don't believe I've heard an opening night audience so robust and spontaneous and eager in their joy! at what they're seeing unfold as musical comedy theatrics in front of them. 

Never mind the Standing O! that is commonplace in Vancouver. But this time so well! well! well! deserved. The fact that Act 1's conclusion was slightly delayed due to the rousing applause and Huzzah's that went on-&-on-&-on for the "Be Our Guest" song-&-dance number was a first in my experience locally.

Personally I dig the intense and gritty small-stage Mamet-stuff more than I do big-stage musical theatrics. But this, this! was a night to remember, particularly all the dramatic and theatric build-up in the first act.

Truly a spectacle that treats eye-&-ear-&-funny-bone-&-heart in equal measure. Kids loved it, parents too, the grands as well. You owe yourself this one, Vancouver.

Particulars : Original Disney Theatrical Productions (1994) : Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Produced by Arts Club Theatre at its Stanley stage. On until January 13, 2018. Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or Run-time two-and-a-half hours, including intermission.

Production team Director Bill Millerd.  Musical Director Ken Cormier.  Original Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Production Choreographer Scott Augustine.  Set Designer Alison Green.  Costume Designer Barbara Clayden.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Chris Daniels.  Projection Designer Joel Grinke.  Stage Manager Caryn Fehr.  Stage Manager (from Dec.23) Pamela Jakobs.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.  Apprentice Stage Manager Jenny Kim.

Orchestra :  Ken Cormier (Director; Keyboard).  Henry Christian (Trumpet).  Martin Fisk (Percussion).  Angus Kellett (Keyboard).  Sasha Niechoda (Keyboard).  Andrew Poirier (Trombone).

Performers :  Susan Anderson (Mrs. Potts).  Mat Baker (Monsieur D'Arque).  Shannon Chan-Kent (Belle).  Bernard Cuffling (Maurice).  Nolen Dubuc (Chip).  Meghan Gardiner (Madame de la Grande Bouche).  Peter Jorgenson (Lumiere).  Anna Kuman (Babette).  Shawn Macdonald (Cogsworth).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Gaston).  Vincent Tong (LeFou).  Jonathan Winsby (Beast)
Ensemble : Sierra Brewerton.  Darren Burkett.  Caleb DiPomponio.  Austin Eckhert.  Julio Fuentes.  Shannon Hanbury.  Jennifer Lynch.  Alison Roberts.

Addendum : From the House Program, Page 9. Words that speak volumes. Words that speak for themselves. 


Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favourite shows, and holds a lot of special memories for me, because my daughter, Amy Wallis, and I did it together for four Christmas seasons. It was the first major lead role of her career, which subsequently led her to Charlottetown (where she played the lead in Anne of Green Gables for four seasons), Toronto, Stratford, and many other places across the country. But as long as we were doing Beauty and the Beast, we knew that at least she'd be home for christmas! Her last performance was as a soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in the fall of 2014. Sadly, she was taken from us, after a battle with leukaemia, in June of 2015.

When Bill decided to remount Beauty and the Beast this year, it was with a heavy heart that I declined my involvement. Amy loved this show and very much wanted to do it again, and I couldn't imagine doing it without her.

Many thanks to Bill, and to Scott (who has generously taken on my original choreography), the Arts Club, the very talented Shannon Chan-Kent, and all of the cast of Beauty and the Beast 2017 for their love and support. I know it will be a wonderful show.

Valerie Easton, Original Choreographer

Dancing, in previous productions of Beauty and the Beast, to Valerie Easton's inspired choreography has always been a pleasure. Being asked to be part of the 2017 creative team and adapting that same choreography is an honour, though a humble one, knowing the circumstances of Valerie's absence. As Production Choreographer, the challenge and goal has been to retain the integrity of Valerie's well-designed movement and overall artistic vision, while adding or adjusting based on the new set design and staging.

My thanks to Bill and Valerie for their trust and generosity, and to the cast and everyone involved for their hard work and dedication.

Remembering Amy Wallis, a wonderful and talented colleague and our first Belle.

Scott Augustine, Production Choreographer.


Saturday, 9 December 2017

Scrooge scrooges bad angels in A Christmas Carol
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Few dramatic challenges can equal having to take a vintage -- some would argue even trite! -- story by Charles Dickens about Christmas and find a way to make it grabby. It's been just shy of 175 years, after all, since this piece set in Victorian England's dour Industrial Age ghettos was first published as a novella. How to make it timeless?

Particularly when Wiki tells us Dickens "was inspired to write the story following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, one of several establishments for London's half-starved, illiterate street children." No question he was a confirmed humanist : he believed all souls on earth have both the ability and responsibility to choose how they embrace life. The treatment of poor, marginalized and exploited folk among us is not God-ordained, he believed : it is utterly anthropogenic in origin.

Take the heart out of the ghetto and ghetto life gets vastly improved, Charles Dickens thought. All you have to do is do it whether at Christmas or at any other time of year.
Photo credit David Cooper
So. How does one spin this fundamentally godless proposition into fun, sport & amusement about the Christmas spirit you want to take the kids to see? Throw in some song-&-dance. Slap in a few ghosts. Add some next-door-neighbour characters who tug at our heart-strings. Believe that if you scratch beneath their crusts, most folks have better angels half-hidden. Dickens asks their kinder, gentler selves to come out and play : simple as all this.

What the show brings to the stage :  Fact is the character Scrooge is pan-cultural and omnipresent, a reflection of ego-fueled, disparaging bigotry. Name a culture, country or religion that are exempt. With the rise world-wide of nativist and populist impulses, not hard to imagine where the more altruistic themes of empathy and generosity-of-spirit emitting from Dickens would play somewhat poorly. Starting in districts not more than a stone's throw from here.

But -- fortunately! -- the Gateway production suggests that Mr. Bah Humbug doesn't do an altogether Saul-to-Paul on the road to Damascus transformation. No, at core he really remains Mr. Bah Humbug. The New! Improved! Scrooge just loosens the purse strings a bit. Buys the Cratchits a turkey. Offers Cratchit Jr. a job. Has a robust round of giggles at his own expense and a cuddle with Tiny Tim. But really it's just a veneer only slightly more than skin deep. Whew! Saints be praised!

Ebenezer Scrooge (Russell Roberts) gets life lessons from the Spirit of Christmas Present (Allan Morgan) who points out over the London townscape all the Christmas Day pleasantries and generosities being practiced by Scrooge's neighbours and family to try to steer him in a gooderer life direction.
Photo credit : David Cooper

Production values that enhance the script : I.m.o. Gateway's main stage -- like other similarly-sized houses around town -- is precisely not the ideal room for the engaging Michael Shamata adaptation of Mr. Dickens' original. This show would play way better in the intimacy of Jericho or at Pacific Theatre's alley stage or at ACT's 1st Avenue room when set in horseshoe stage mode. (Ideally a theatre-in-the-round event I'd say.)

So in that slightly-hesitant context I nevertheless gotta cheer mightily the Drew Facey set. Like a church nave in skeleton, his open-wall rotating screens suggest the Christian-based spirit of the season. Add a 2-storey rolling duck-blind for ghosts to swivel around the stage-centre dais with its curved staircase. Joining the downstage apron, the cast of 14 playing two dozen roles-&-then-some make the vast spaces they're trying to fill a little more up-close-&-personal.

Two other primary elements help pull all this off admirably. Once more Carmen Alatorre's eye and touch for costume sumptuousness are flawless. (All I want for Christmas is Scrooge's velvety dressing gown...!)  Joelysa Pankanea's sound design with its mix of synthesizer mood riffs coupled with acoustic guitars and piano and drum and chime and voice -- all rich stuff that brings the action together with verve.

The Spirit of Christmas Past (Emily Jane King) magically brings forth not only Ebenezer as a wee lad (Jenna Lamb) but also his sister Fan (Scotia Browner) as she tries to remind Scrooge how once he was a nice kid. What happened -- same question Hillary is asking herself these days...
Photo credit : David Cooper

Acting pin-spots :   Because of his various and sundry roles -- narrator front-&-aft, Jacob Marley, Mr. Fezziwig, the Ghost of Christmas Present -- Allan Morgan quite steals the night as Best Supporting Actor to Russell Roberts' first-rate cut at the off-putting and teeth-grinding grump that is Scrooge. 

For a man of his height and breadth, Morgan is notably nimble afoot, particularly as the endearing Fezziwig who was Scrooge's (failed...) mentor in business. His basso profundo voice and endless arms and hands make his presence just that much more present. Mr. Russell's transformative scenes at show's end, meanwhile, were sheer delight to watch and hear. You will lol, literally. This praise in no way to detract from some fine turns by the rest of the troupe -- both from the seasoned actors and the newbies, too.   

Who gonna like : As a kid, Hallmark Hall of Fame sponsored annually on NBC a live stage production of Carlos Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. Memories of that show -- more than It's A Wonderful Life or Holiday Inn  -- remain fixed on my brain's replay screen as "the" definitive Christmas drama I died waiting each season to see. Seeing A Christmas Carol done as stage-play tugged at me similarly to Amahl. Much more so than the Alistair Sim movie ever did.

I know not other adaptations done of Dickens for the stage, but Mr. Shamata's effort is not just worthy but magnetic. Everyone speaks "normal", no hacked-up English accents being tried out and faked. Cross-cultural casting, a delightful blend of pro-am talent trotted out. 

Anyone looking for some "real" flavour of the season to watch and hear and feel should jump at the chance to take this show in. It will no doubt -- like Marley's ghosts -- be remounted in years to come. But make a pledge this year : buy your family an experience, not a thing. This might be just the one.

Particulars : Original novella written by Charles Dickens. Adapted for the stage by Michael Shamata. On at Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond. On thru December 24, 2017. Tickets & schedule information via box office phone @ 604.270.1812 or on-line @ tickets.gatewaytheatre.comRun-time 110 minutes, including intermission.

Production crew : Director Rachel Peake.  Assistant Director William Ford Hopkins. Movement Consultant Shane Snow.  Set Designer Drew Facey.  Costume Designer Carmen Allatore.  Lighting Designer Itai Erdal.  Sound / Composition Designer Joelysa Pankanea. Technical Director Marcus Stusek.  Stage Manager Lois Dawson.  Assistant Stage Manager Michelle Harrison.  Apprentice Stage Manager Madelaine Walker.  Apprentice Stage Manager Donnie Tejani.

Performers : Russell Roberts (Ebenezer Scrooge).  Allan Morgan (Jacob Marley).  Adam Olgui (Bob Crotchet /Dick Wilkins / Others).  Jenna Lamb (Tiny Tim / Ebenezer as Child / Others).  Emily Jane King (Spirit of Christmas Past / Others).  Allan Morgan (Spirit of Christmas Present / Others).  Josh Chambers (Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come / Others).  Stephanie Wong (Mrs. Cratchit / Spirit / Others).  Amanda Testini (Belle / Spirit / Others).  Linda Quibell (Mrs. Fezziwig / Mrs. Dilber / Others)./. Matthias Falvai (Peter Cratchit / Topper).  Michelle Morris (Martha Cratchit / Miss Jane / Others).  Sachi Nisbet (Belinda Cratchit / Mrs. Fred / Others).  Teo Saefkow (Fred / Young Ebenezer / Others).  Scotia Browner (Fan / Others). 


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Realistic Joneses tackles dread with wit & pathos & words-words-words chasing more words
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.
   Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  Singer Gloria Estevan of Miami Sound Machine famously wrote in 1986 "There's something I've been trying to say to you / But the words got in the way." That, surely, is the meta-message of playwright Will Eno's 2-act 2014 script The Realistic Joneses.

The setting is a bucolic restful mountain town "Somewhere / Out there / Beneath the pale blue sky" as Linda Ronstadt put it back when. "Somewhere" is home to a clinic whose eponymous doctor is trying out experimental treatments for a rare neurological wasting disease he gave his name to, the Harriman Leavey Syndrome. Two men named Jones -- Bob and John -- have repaired to the town for treatments at his clinic. The disease deteriorates its victims relatively quickly, not dissimilar to the real disease known as ALS. Death is more than merely certain : it looms.

Kelly Sheridan (Pony), husband John (Peter Wilson), neighbour Jennifer (Joan Bryans) and her husband Bob (Charles Siegel) are the Joneses, who each and all have a jones about words, loss, loneliness & death.

Along the way they discover that in the face of the dread that such serious life-ending illness brings, their various efforts to communicate with their spouses are more like affliction than affection.  Chiefly their conversations are like scar tissue -- flesh wounds occasioned by endless miscue and off-target shots. Along the way the audience is peppered by life insights offered up casually, like hors d'oeuvres scattered about randomly at an awkward cocktail party no one really wants to be at. 

What the show brings to the stage : The critical comparisons between Will Eno and Samuel Beckett are so common as to be trite. Throw in some Edward Albee -- the character Pony is almost a clone of Sandy Dennis's Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- add a dash of Harold Pinter's one-off scene-scripts and you're in Eno territory for certain. Just made more contemporary -- post-GenX if not full-on social media saturated Millennial. 

Like many contemporary dramas, TRJ is a series of interconnected scenes that sequence one another. While Billy Bard's scenes normally switch up settings and venues as well as characters, these scenes all take place in the Sr. Jones's back yard or the Jr. Jones's kitchen. Eno is famous for his language nuances, his ear for non-sequitur, characters' verbal overdubs, syncopated syntax, a lot of "Just kidding!" kinds of banter, most of which point more to communication avoidance than engagement. His cadences are often likened to free verse poetry. The character depictions in TRJ are dead-centre accurate, reminding me instantly of the 1970's Robert Penn Warren poem "Waiting" [see Addendum #3].  

Production values that highlight the show : The Cultch's black box 75-seat room is ideal for an Eno play. The objective, if but one were to be picked, would be the dialogue : one wants and needs to hear & chew over & digest each and every syllable, nuance, dropped phrase, purposeful pause. Vanka Salim's set design was functionally plain, again suiting the Eno script to a T. As were Cheryl Siegel's costumes : sensible frump, as unpretentious as the characters. Renee Iaci acted as directorial consultant for this artists' collective under contract with Canadian Actors' Equity. Well-wrought theatre here no question.

Simple webbed summer chairs and a summer sky can't deny the desperation looming for the two neighbour couples both called Jones. Jennifer & Bob, Pony & John look both wistful and lost as they stare up wondering what God has in store as the men's neurological degeneration continues inexorably.
Photo credit : Nancy Caldwell
Acting pin-spots : Strong performances by each of the four principals. Listening to Peter Wilson, one could be forgiven thinking Stuart McLean had resurrected himself. Nice idiosyncratic stuff he stutters out. Joan Bryans' Jennifer brought to mind Downton Abbey's headmistress character Mrs. Hughes by Phyllis Logan, just with a Blighty accent instead of Scot. Her anger outbursts with just the right quantum of eff-word ejaculations were bristly good, but also her more empathic turns. Stumbly bumbly hubby Bob by UBC Theatre veteran Charlies Siegel -- "I don't want to know anything, I just want to get better!" -- was a sad charmer. And charm he did the Jr. Mrs. Jones played by Kelly Sheridan. The earlier comparison to Albee's Honey in both Eno's dialogue for her and her delivery of it just about says it all. 

Who gonna like : It is said the 3rd Monday in January is the "bluest day of the year", as in the most miserable 1/365. TRJ should be staged for that time instead of as a kick-off to the Festival of Lights brought on by Winter Solstice. Addendum #1 provides all the dialogue ammunition needed to prove that point. Golly! this is not rum-&-egg nog frippery : more like bad tequila spiked with kerosene (though some would argue that's a redundancy). And could the script be circumscised by 15 minutes or so? Surely.

Meanwhile Vancouver philosopher-muse Eckhart Tolle reminds us that "Identification with your mind...causes thought to become compulsive. Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don't realize this because everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal." His reflection simply tailgates and expands on Hamlet from Act 2, Sc. 2 where the tragic hero famously observes "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

So. Somewhere in a scrum of Shakespeare, Gloria Estevan and Eckhart Tolle is Will Eno's oh-so-clever play on words, lit.-&-fig, that is The Realistic Joneses. If the 20th century playwright spirits noted at the start of this piece are your favourites -- not to forget a wee hint of David Mamet's best sardonic wit reflected in some of Mr. Eno's lines, too -- this is a Must go! evening out on the Vancouver professional theatre boards.

I was embraced, entranced, affixed and at times stunned at the reach and grasp around marital desperation and desolation that Will Eno depicts and reflects for many in our midst. Brought out both "realistically" and metaphorically through the imminence of death from degenerating illness. Because death -- whether from painful acute sickness or plain-&-simple biologic entropy -- just is. Its ghost staring at us brings out precisely the "whatness" -- their ultimate karma -- that each person adds to this life for better or for worse.

Particulars :  Playwright Will Eno.  Produced by The Mint Collective of Vancouver, a Canadian Actors' Equity Association under the Artists' Collective policy.  At the Cultural Lab Theatre, 1895 Venables.  Run-time 120 minutes, including 15-minute intermission.  From December 7 - 17. Tickets & schedule information by phoning 604.251.1363 Noon - 6 p.m. weekdays, or via 

Production crew : Stage & Property Manager Jessica Hildebrand.  Set & Lighting Designer Vanka Salim.  Costume Designer Cheryl Siegel.  Sound Designer Zakk Harris.  Directorial Consultant Renee Iaci.  Design Consultant Robert Gardiner.  Graphic Designer & Program Sarah Siegel.  Production Manager Charles Siegel.  Photographer Nancy Caldwell.  Publicity Joan Bryans.

Performers :  Joan Bryans (Jennifer).  Kelly Sheridan (Pony).  Charles Siegel (Bob).  Peter Wilson (John).

Addendum #1 : Although I did not have access to a script of the play, from dozens of sources and my own note-taking I culled the following quotes that give considerable flavour to what is mostly sit-about, non-action occurring on stage :

Pony, upon meeting the older Joneses for the first time :
"I always wanted to live in one of these little towns near the mountains. So one night, he comes home and literally just says, literally -- um, I forget what you said exactly...".
"Just something about moving to one of these little towns near the mountains," John tells her.

Bob goes to look for wine glasses. Jennifer talks about the clinic + experimental treatments + a not-good outcome prognosis.
"I'm sorry, I just kind of blurted that all out!"
"That's all right," John replies. "That's what separates us from the animal. You never hear animals blurting things out. Unless they're being run over by a car or something."

After Jennifer confesses to Pony how tough dealing with Bob's illness is:
"Say no more," says Pony.
"Have you had experience with something like this?" Jennifer naturally responds.
"I just didn't want you to say any more," Pony replies flatly.

Bob and Jennifer, after Bob dodges some serious questions.
"It just seems like we don't talk," Jennifer says.
"What are we doing right now, math?" Bob replies.
"No, we're -- I don't know -- sort of throwing words at each other," Jennifer responds.

When Jennifer insists that they talk about Bob's disease and Bob demurs, she says :
"But we communicate pretty well, even without words."

In the grocery store John and Jennifer bump into each other.
"Well, hey, if it isn't you!"
"No it is, hi!"
"I'm just saying, you know, what if it wasn't?"
Jennifer appears eager to get on with her shopping.
"It's weird," John says, "you want this conversation to end, but I want it to keep going." Shortly he grabs her arm :
"What are you doing?" Jennifer asks, mildly confused.
"I don't know," John says. "Reaching out."
"Because," he responds, "and because you have pretty eyes. They're sad, but they're really pretty. They're good."
"Well, that's very -- I actually need glasses to read," Jennifer says, flustered.
"Interesting," John replies.
When Jennifer turns blunt about Bob's condition, John tells her : "You have a lot of composure." 
"Thank you." 
"Oh, you took that as a compliment, okay..." says John.

Later, recalling this earlier encounter, Jennifer tells John :
"You were funny and weird, and you made me feel better. And I remembered people can do that. That talking with someone can make you feel better."

When it becomes clear that loss of memory is affecting John as well as Bob, Pony says : "John and words -- forget about it."  “This was fun,” John says a second later. “Not fun but some other word.”

Pony, who's been left in the dark about John's illness tries a prayer looking for help to cope.
"This feels weird," she says, mid-prayer. "No offense. You probably just think I'm one of so many people. You're probably like, my God, what is this even about? Maybe you're going to burn everything down anyway. I don't know your crazy mind."

In another exchange, Bob asks John if when Jennifer came over to check on him when he had a seizure an evening earlier, whether "anything happened" : "There was a sort of humanness in the air," John says, "and we might have made tacos, I really don't remember."

When John says he has just discovered a company that prints transcripts of audio-books. "Wouldn't that just be the book?" Jennifer retorts with mild sarcasm.

Some time later John, who thinks horsing around will help keep the demons at bay with wife Pony says "We've kind of stopped talking. Words don't really do it for me anymore."  

For no obvious reason, Bob sneaks over to John's house at midnight and trips the motion sensor light. John is awake. They have a "mildly hostile chitchat". John points out a constellation, Bob joins in. 
"No, I'm looking at this part, you look over there!" John instructs him when Bob gazes in the same general direction as he. 
Then, later, after an exchange about their wives, John waxes : "Men! Who would have imagined two men standing staring at the stars and saying 'Men!'  Oh yeah, what position did you play in football? Do you ever cry, Bob?" 
"I should head back," Bob says.
"Yeah, get off my stupid rented property. It was great broaching the old questions with you."
"It was. I'll see you, John."
"Oh, hey, Bob? Pretend I said sonmething really sweet, okay? Like some gentle, little, good-night sort of thing."

In a kiss-&-make-up effort with John near the end, Pony blurts out a raft of confessions. "I heard some words in that...I wish there were less words in English!" John complains.

After a restaurant dinner when another HLS sufferer -- an albino named Elliott -- collapses in a pool of blood and dies at the table, the Joneses head back home where they sit looking up at the stars. "I don't think anything good is going to happen to us," Bob says. "But you know, what are you going to do?" Then he remembers he has mints in his pocket he got at the restaurant. "I like mints. Mint?" he says, smiling, and offers one to Jennifer.

-The End-

Addendum #2 : Excerpts from an American Conservatory Theater (San Francisco) 2016 interview by Shannon Stockwell with Will Eno on a web-page called "Words on Plays".

SS : Why "realistic" above all other possible adjectives? What's realistic about these characters? Is there anything that isn't realistic?

WE : My thought was that, in terms of trying to face death, which is an unreal or at the very least surreal proposition, any human response might be called "realistic". Also, I like the idea of that word "jones", as in craving or need. It's usually used in relation to drug addiction, but I think of it here in a more innocent way : the real needs and cravings we all have. What we might be able to reasonably expect from life and the world. But it has to do more with these two couples, the Joneses. Though we all might live in the middle of some serious illusions and delusions, from the inside it probably always feels like reality. I guess that's practically the definition of a delusion, that it seems like reality to the deluded. I think all of the Joneses are doing their best, are living with the maximum amount of reality that each can manage.

SS : What is the function of Harriman Leavey Syndrome in the play?

WE :  I wanted to create a disease that was particular enough that it would be seen and felt as a problem, but mysterious or foreign engouh that it could stand for the simple looming fact of mortality. It's important for it to be degenerative, because that's how it goes. We all have to face this process -- aging, sickness -- that, in some ways, is the opposite of life, but, importantly, we are still alive while it is happening, and we have some time and a lot of choices about how to face it.

SS : Does the name "Harriman Leavey" come from anywhere?

WE : Well, I hope it sounds like it might be a guy who is a researcher in neurological diseases. I mean, I have all sorts of reasons for things, but I don't know if they're interesting or if my theories actually play out in the real world. "Harriman" is a very stable and sort of WASPy name, but there's also something sort of frantic about it. "Leavey" is close to "leaving". That's what you're always looking for : something that works in the world you've created and that also might have some deep, unconscious resonance with people.

SS : How does your relationship with language manifest itself in The Realistic Joneses ?

WE : I think people are generally sort of brilliant. I think language is an amazing human invention. And I think people in an audience can follow things and flesh things out with incredible speed. So with all that in mind, I just try not to make too many mistakes or use words lazily. I try to use language in a way that is specific enough to satisfy the logical part of the brain, but jagged enough or gentle enough that the heart and the stomach can also get involved.

SS :  How personal are your plays?

WE :  They come from thoughts and feelings and experiences I've had. Not so much from the news or current events. I've always thought that the forms a playwright uses in his or her plays are probably just as expressive and even as autobiographical as the content he or she fills them with. I would say the form of The Realistic Joneses could be described as anxious and slightly repressed, but searching for light and air and peace, if that doesn't sound too crazy.

Addendum #3 : Albeit I included this poem in another BLR Addendum 2-3 years back, I re-include it for purposes of The Realistic Joneses. It is an uncanny poetic representation of the play. But unlike the play scripted between 2008-2014, the poem is 40-ish years old, published in The Atlantic about the time playwright Will Eno hit Grade 4 still in short pants. 

Without a doubt, however, he could easily be "accused" of modelling TRJ after it verse-for-verse. And that is high praise indeed. 

As well, the realistic / naturalistic soundscape of The Mint Collective production with its crickets, owls, church chimes, passing diesel locomotive, highway cars, crows & dogs matches the mood of the poem precisely.

Waiting, by Robert Penn Warren

You will have to wait. Until it. Until The last owl hoot has quavered to a 

Vibrant silence and you realize thre is no breathing 
Beside you, and dark curdles toward dawn. Until

Drouth breaks, too late to save the corn, 
But not too late for flood, and the dog-fox, stranded

On a sudden islet, barks in hysteria in the alder-brake. 

Until the doctor enters the waiting room, and 
His expression betrays all, and you wish 
He'd take his God-damned hand off your shoulder. Until

The woman you have lived with all the years 
Says, without rancor, that life is the way life is, and she

Had never loved you, had believed the lie only for the sake of the children. 

Until you become uncertain of French irregular verbs 
And by a strange coincidence begin to take Catholic instruction from Monsignor O'Malley, who chews a hangnail. Until

You realize, truly, that our Saviour died for us all, 
And as tears gather in your eyes, you burst out laughing,

For the joke is certainly on Him, considering 
What we are. Until

You pick the last alibi off, like a scab, and 
Admire the inwardness, as beautiful as inflamed flesh

Or summer sunrise. Until you
Remember, suprisingly, that common men have done good deeds. Until it

Grows on you that, at least, God
Has allowed us the grandeur of certain utterances.