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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Don't look to me for a definitive answer to that question.
Baker's reputation as one of our best and most interesting young playwrights owes much to her ear for contemporary language and story telling skills. The Antipodes, like her Pulitzer winning The Flick, moves along slowly, with lots of pauses and little real dramatic action. But the dialogue she's written for her 9-member cast is clear and contemporary, unlike the babble of invented English that filled the pages of . . .Wake and other Joyce novels. The Antipodes's structure is nevertheless decidedly Joycean. Since the script has no clearly defined story line or theme, is, in short, a head scratcher. That said, however, stories are very much the heart and soul of The Antipodes.
The long, oval table around which the cast members are gathered, indicates that we're in the conference room of a large corporation. The casually dressed actors don't look particularly corporate, but they are indeed hired employees of a vaguely defined organization in an unspecified city.
The stories told at the meetings we follow over the course of almost two hours without an intermission will be added to a carefully maintained data base that's part of an equally fuzzy project. The only specifics about this project are supplied by Sandy (Will Patton), who's in charge of establishing what each meeting should be about. Since he's reached his position on the basis of having created a super successful TV show I suppose this could just be a big media company looking to launch a very special kind of new hit. According to Sandy the shared and recordeD stories will contribute to "something unprecedented" that will "give people a new sense of empathy and commonality." Not so incidentally, the end result will also benefit the organization and its employees by making "a shitload of money."
This set-up somehow hints at something more at play than the creation of a big new media hit. It had me wondering if this could be what those people affiliated with Think Tanks who are often guest experts on news programs are all about. Do they leave their own little cubbyholes to justify their salaries by participating in group think projects designed to influence national and global events and social mores?
While Sandy is the boss we see and hear from, the group's founder and man at the top is a man named Max. His one appearance is via a Wizard of Oz-ish voice-over (by Hugh Dancy) that adds to the Orwellian flavor with its references to disappearing project participants and some members afflicted with bizarre illnesses.
The initial round of stories focus on personal experiences. This is apparently Sandy's way of priming his team them to dig deeper and further into the project's mission to create something so big that it will encompass all aspects of civilizations' stories past, present and future.
As the story telling merges the personal with the historic, it's not hard to recognize some links to such famous fairy tales as Cinderella or variations of the the Garden of Eden story. Ms. Baker is clearly having both fun with the idea of how telling ourselves stories gets us through life but also has her worried that everything has already been told enough to have a run their course— thus coming too late to save us from Armageddon.
Unlike Baker's terrific Vermont stories, The Antipodes' Joycean surrealism tends to be more challenging than consistently engaging. Fortunately, director Lila Neugebauer does tap into the humor as well as the play's bafflingly dark underside. And she's got a very capable cast to help her do so.
It's nice to see Josh Charles, the charismatic lawyer from whose murder TV's The Good Wife never recovered, back on stage. But this isn't a star vehicle and Neugebauer has drawn fine, natural performances from the entire cast. She's also helped Nicole Rodenburg's Sarah the office assistant make her pattern of interrogative sentence endings more amusing than annoying. Kay Voyce's constant costume changes for Rodenberg are fun as well as an effective device to indicate the passing of time on Laura Jellinek's single unit set. The other actors remain in the same ordinary street clothes throughout.
The Antipodes is unlikely to w be a must-see for theatergoers who prefer straightforward melodramas like the currently revived The Little Foxes with its handsome set, costumes and loaded with drama beginning-middle-end plot. But Annie Baker has enough fans (and I count myself as one of them), to extend The Andropodes twice even before its official opening. While her Shirley, Vermont plays are still my Baker favorites, I'm glad I saw this theatrical puzzle — as you will be if you go without pre-conceived expectations.
For more about Annie Baker and links to other of her plays reviewed at Curtainup, check out her chapter in our Author's Album.
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The Antipodes by Annie Baker
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Cast: Phillip James Brannon (Adam), Josh Charles (Dave), Josh Hamilton (Josh), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Danny M1), Danny McCarthy, (Danny N2),Emily Cass McDonnell), Brian Miskell(Brian),Will Patton (Sandy), Nicole Rodenburg (Sarah).
Costumes: Kaye Voyce
Lighting: Tyler Micoleau
Sound: Bray Poor
Choreographer: David Neumann
Stage Manager: Laura Smth
Running Time: Approx 2 hours without intermisson Signature Theater Center-Romulus Linney Courtyard TheatreLinney Theater
From 4/04/17; opening 4/23/17; closing 6/04/17 (discounted $30 ticket price ends orginally scheduled 5/14 closing)
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 19th press preview
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