Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Antipodes


After being underwhelmed by Circle Mirror Transformation and angered by The Flick, I decided that Annie Baker was not a playwright I would ever appreciate. Then along came John, the first play of her Signature Theatre residency, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Now we have her second work for Signature, this strange piece that is essentially a fantasia on storytelling. I am beginning to think that John was a fluke, because I was once again disappointed. The set, by Laura Jellinek, is a conference room with grey carpet on the floor and walls, an enormous oval table surrounded by Aeron office chairs, a large oval light fixture overhead and a pile of colorful boxes of flavored soda water on the floor. The audience sits on the two long sides. Unfortunately, this configuration leads to at least three of the actors having their back to you for the entire play. When we arrive, a young man with a laptop is seated near one end of the table. He is soon joined by five men and a woman. Finally an older man, clearly the boss, arrives and sits at the head of the table. This is Sandy (Will Patton) who is in charge of the six writers around the table who are tasked with telling stories that will lead to the creation of an unspecified new project, perhaps a video game. Brian (Brian Miskell), the young man with the laptop, is there to transcribe their stories. Sandy emphasizes that anything goes in their stories, except for dwarves, elves and trolls. He induces them to tell about their first sexual experience, the worst thing that ever happened to them and their biggest regret. Dave (Josh Charles) and Danny M1 (Danny Mastrogiorno) dive right in. Adam (Phillip James Brannon) doesn’t have much to say until late in the play when he tells the longest, most fully developed story. Danny M2 (Danny McCarthy) has trouble getting into the spirit of things. Josh (Josh Hamilton) is troubled that he has yet to receive his ID badge or his paycheck. Eleanor (Emily Cass McDonnell) placidly knits most of the time. Sarah (Nicole Rodenburg), Sandy’s secretary with the affect of a Valley girl, pops in now and then to take lunch orders and announce the latest reason for Sandy’s absence. The passage of time is marked primarily by her changes of costume. Although storytelling is not part of her job, she tells one of the evening’s best tales. Some of their stories are raunchy, others gory and at least one, poetic. The stories that comprise most of the evening have no narrative arc that I could detect; nor do they really tell much about the characters who relate them. The relationships among the various writers go virtually unexplored. There are flashes of humor including a running joke about each writer having a different idea about how many kinds of stories there are. There’s a neat trick that I never figured out whereby food mysteriously appears on the table. What there is not is a cohesive plot or fully-developed characters. I suspect that the playwright had more fun coming up with ways to tease the audience than the audience has watching the play. Lila Neugebauer (The Wolves) directed. Running time: one hour 55 minutes; no intermission.

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