Vanguard play tackles tough topic

Starting at 8 p.m. on Feb. 23 in the Fine Arts Building’s Little Theatre, a cast of four UTM students will tackle realism through performance of “The Realistic Joneses.”

Called an “absurdist comedy” by Kevin Shell, director and assistant professor of Visual and Theatre Arts, the play follows four individuals as they each cope with disease in their own way.

“In the time that I’ve been here, this is probably the most dramatic and most serious straight play that we’ve done,” said Shell.

The production spotlights two different couples, each with the last name Jones, that move next door to one another in a small town. However, the similarities do not stop there. Both families have moved to the area so the husbands can receive treatment for the fictitious Harriman Leavey Syndrome.

Bob and Jennifer Jones are played by Lymonté Thomas, a sophomore communications student, and Shelby Johnson, senior theatre major. Bob seemingly crumbles under the weight of his diagnosis and becomes “sulky” even though he receives treatment, described Shell. As a result, Jennifer becomes his caretaker.

“Jennifer Jones is a 30-something just trying to fix everything,” Johnson said.

As for the other couple, John, played by senior communications student Eli McCaig, experiments with homeopathic treatment methods such as acupuncture, and does not even tell his wife about his diagnosis. Pony is played by Macy Earley, who is a sophomore vocal music education student.

“The audience kind of gets to see Pony grow up emotionally and mentally in this show and it’s a really cool thing to watch how much she changes from the beginning of the show to the end of the show,” said Earley, who called Pony “scatter-brained.”

The development of the disease takes its toll on the couples and even leads to infidelity.

“It’s [the play] an example of how cancer, dementia or certain things affect a man and a woman in a marriage and in life and what it does to them and sort of how it affects other people in a different way,” Shell said.

The cast has been preparing for the performance for a little over a month and it has presented challenges, in part because of the playwright’s intention for it to be performed by older actors.

“I think that the most challenging part of the role is portraying someone with an illness,” Thomas said. “I myself have never had a deep enough interaction or connection with someone with a disease like Bob’s so learning to portray that aspect of him was very hard to do.”

Johnson echoed this sentiment.

“We’re all college students, so we don’t have the life experience that these characters have. At our age, there’s no way we could completely understand exactly what they’re going through, so we all have to just try our best to be our characters.”

The play is written by playwright Will Eno and tinkers with facets of existentialism while incorporating humor. It was featured on Broadway in 2014.

The evening performances extend through Feb. 28, and there will also be an afternoon performance on Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $5 for children and students and $15 for adults through the Little Theatre box office or by calling the Department of Visual and Theatre Arts at 731-881-7400.

 

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