Kansas City Actors Theatre may be known for presenting tried-and-true plays — “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” — but its next production will be something different, a show that only just made its Broadway debut in 2014.
“The Realistic Joneses,” by up-and-coming playwright Will Eno, explores the relationships between two married couples named Jones who move in next to each other in the suburbs. As the play unwinds, so do the couples’ marriages as they’re forced to face the imperfect realities and tragic secrets they’re keeping from each other.
“It’s a life lesson in communication; it’s kind of therapeutic, in a sense,” said director John Rensenhouse. “We didn’t really give a thought to, ‘Well, this is not the kind of play we usually do.’ We just liked it, and it fit our company so well.”
A relationship-driven plot may be common fare for the drama-focused theater, but Eno’s style of writing presented a challenge the actors hadn’t seen there: stream-of-consciousness, capturing how everyday people speak — tangents, run-ons and all.
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While it’s been easy for the actors to get the gist of their lines, getting to word-perfect is another thing entirely, not to mention finding a motivation in the jumble of disconnected phrases.
“We may not always know what they mean in the moment, but when you start to look at the arc of the character, it starts to make sense for them,” said Carla Noack, who plays Jennifer, the wife in the older Jones couple.
“An actor always wants to have a through-line, you know, the rational line to the thing, and maybe you don’t always have to have that,” Rensenhouse added. “People don’t always behave in a rational manner.”
Rensenhouse and his actors have learned there’s a fine line between staying true to the script and trying too hard — specifically, playing the lines for laughs. While “The Realistic Joneses” is a funny play, it isn’t plot-driven and there’s always the worry it won’t communicate to the audience.
“If we do connect with the audience, and I think we will because, for me, there’s just something enchanting about this piece, it will confirm that you don’t always need an action-packed story or a huge, million-dollar set to enjoy theater,” said Brian Paulette, who plays John, the younger Jones husband.
While “The Realistic Joneses” is a newer, more cerebral play, Rensenhouse is confident that it will become a classic in the next 20 years — so the Kansas City Actors Theatre is just ahead of the curve.
Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of “The Realistic Joneses” runs May 24 through June 11 at the City Stage at Union Station. The one-act play runs 90 minutes. Call 816-235-6662 or see kcactors.org.