The Intertwined Lives of The Realistic Joneses at 4th Wall

Philip Lehl in The Realistic Joneses.
Philip Lehl in The Realistic Joneses. Photo by Jeff McMorrough
When Kim Tobin-Lehl and Philip Lehl, co-artistic directors of Houston's 4th Wall Theatre Company, saw Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses on Broadway, they liked it immensely. And thought they could do it a lot better.

Both of them say they felt the play about two suburban couples sharing the same last name — and a ubiquitous one at that — deserved a much more intimate setting. And that's what they're offering at Spring Street Studios starting this weekend.

In The Realistic Joneses, Bob and Jennifer Jones have new neighbors: a younger couple named John and Pony Jones. The storyline is that they have more in common than their last name and as they get to know each other that becomes evident. As it turns out, both of the men are suffering from a terminal disease.

Lehl says he and his wife are big fans of Eno and notes that "His writing is often misunderstood. Often people think that his characters are wacky or avant garde. We think that in fact, they're not; they're portraits of realistic people in odd situations.

"His style of writing is easy to go the wrong way with it; to make it cartoony."

Lehl and Tobin-Lehl play the older couple and Drake Simpson and Vaishnavi Sharma the younger in the 90-minute one-act play directed by Jennifer Dean. Sharma (TV's Mr. Robot, Bedlam Theatre ) says the play shows two couples dealing with mortality.

click to enlarge Vaishnavi Sharma - PHOTO BY JEFF MCMORROUGH
Vaishnavi Sharma
Photo by Jeff McMorrough
Explaining how she got involved in the 4th Wall production, Sharma says "Philip and Kim saw me in a show in New York," when she was working with Bedlam, playing Eliza Doolittle. Besides that, the now-Florida-based actor says she has relatives in the Houston area and it gave her a chance to bring her 4-year-old daughter and spend time with them over the holidays while being able to work at the same time.

"Its a beautiful play and a beautiful role and the  timing was good so it really wasn't much to think about," she says. "They're both dealing with a similar circumstance in their lives. It's the same stake for both couples, but I feel like there's something in the years the older couple has lived that the younger couple hasn't that teaches each other how to be."

The disease the men have manifests in sometimes aggressive and unexpected ways, Sharma says.

While Eno's work is funny in parts, Lehl and Sharma say it's not "kooky."

"It’s about real people and real situations and he has a way of working with language that calls attention to shopworn phrases and makes those phrases different or calls attention to them and that's what funny is, I think," Lehl says.

"It's a showcase for actors who can be totally truthful," Lehl says. "It's a play that was a little bit overlooked because it was in the wrong venue on Broadway. It's a chance for people to see it in a space where it will sing."

"And it's also dealing with something that every single human being in the world deals with which is life and death," Sharma says. "It's about four people who are confronted with the idea of their mortality or the mortality of someone they love and how do you deal with such a big thing and yet continue to live and do your grocery shopping and cooking and drink your coffee?"

Performances are scheduled for January 16 (preview night) through February 8 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays and 2:30 p.n. Saturday January 18 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832-786-1849 or visit $17-$53.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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