Playwright Annie Baker, only 38, has been riding the crest of critical acclaim for several years, especially since she won a Pulitzer Prize for her play “The Flick.”
Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre is currently producing her latest work called “The Antipodes,” directed by Grant McGowen, running through June 8.
I’ve only seen one of Ms. Baker’s plays, but I loved it: “The Aliens,” a three-character work that P&O staged in 2015. Whimsical, fanciful, and magnetic, it completely charmed me.
And now along comes “The Antipodes,” which premiered Off-Broadway in 2017. In this work, a group of people sit around a table telling and cataloging stories. Why? We don’t know. They’re brainstorming ideas for—what?
The team’s leader, Sandy (Alex Van), begins the session by telling the seven participants: “No dwarves or elves or trolls.” Someone comments how messed up everything is right now. Someone else offers this cheery suggestion for telling tales: “If it flies, floats, or f—ks, you’re in it.” “There’s a monster on the other side of the world who looks just like you.”
And so it goes; there’s no particular plot—or maybe plot is all there is, depending on how you look at it. The Village Voice finds the play “a paradoxical, puzzling, compellingly hypnotic work.” I find it puzzling: a play about people telling stories about telling stories, as someone said.
I think Ms. Baker is making some comment about what’s absurd in the human condition. But this has been done before, and in ways that are far more dramatically compelling. I think of the great absurdist Eugene Ionesco in “The Bald Soprano”; in this play at one point four characters start telling stories and become furious when they don’t like them. “Tell us another!” one character demands.
“The Bald Soprano” has vitality; in “The Antipodes” the characters start to doze off from too much talk and too little sleep, and the stories become even more far-fetched.
There is a surrealistic air, but other plays have done this far better. There’s a work called “Line,” by Israel Horovitz (which I was in many years ago in New York; yes, I was an actor), in which five characters desperately try to beat, cheat, or steal their way into first place in line—and we never learn what they’re in line for. “Line” is the longest running Off-Off-Broadway play in history. I think Pinch ‘N’ Ouch would have fun with it. Like “Antipodes,” it’s another one act play, only not quite as long.
“Line” and “The Bald Soprano” have dynamism and movement, something the talented Ms. Baker could have achieved, but didn’t. Quite frankly, I find her work here self-indulgent and derivative.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” writes Joan Didion, in the preface of her brilliant book of essays called “The White Album.” I would bet money that Ms. Baker has read it. But not to worry, she’ll be back. And there are many folks who adore “The Antipodes”; these things are always subjective.
On a brighter note, Mr. McGowen has assembled a cast of very talented people, and they keep this play afloat. Besides the aforementioned Mr. Van, there are James Cogswell, Jeffrey Charles Morgan, Thien Vuong, Keith Douglas, Britt Douyon, Holly A. Johnson, Katarina Fuller, Michael Weldon, and Will Redwood.
Is time vertical or horizontal? That and other sundry topics are discussed in “The Antipodes,” and you can catch it if you hurry.
For tickets and information, visit pnotheatre.org.