By Annie Baker; Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.4.17
Signature Theatre Center, 480 West 42nd Street
by Lexi Orphanos on 4.23.17
Josh Hamilton in The Antipodes. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: The Antipodes is Annie Baker's most self-aware character-driven work yet, with every moment existing as both literal and allegorical.
In Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Baker’s play The Antipodes, heavy-hitting concepts of time and story are poetically tackled. The action occurs in what looks like a standard metropolitan conference room, with fluorescent recessed overhead lighting, a stash of La Croix seltzer large enough to quench the collective thirst of a small village, and a polished arrowhead-shaped table leaving space for only one leader. Unsurprisingly, the table is filled by six men and one woman. What is surprising, though, is their form of work: this is a think-tank of sorts, putting a story together for an unspecified project, and for months on end they must simply remove their own censors and tell any and all personal stories in order to inspire their looming project.
In true Baker style, nothing grand happens throughout the entirety of The Antipodes, and by doing so, the piece is all the more delicious. Baker is not one to present an audience with a hero’s journey and it's concomitant multiple settings, romance, battles, and murder. Her work instead capitalizes on the mundane, bringing wonder to lives that others might not deem stage-worthy. In her 2009 play Circle Mirror Transformation, participants in an acting class deliver soliloquies while pretending to be the other characters; by simply sharing a story, they create an organic means of accessing the true hearts of everyone onstage. In The Antipodes, the all-star cast featuring Will Patton, Josh Hamilton, Nicole Rodenburg, and Dead Poets Society heartthrob Josh Charles, has the literal task of telling a story about people trying to tell a story.
In telling a story about people telling a story, Baker exposes time in new ways. For example, the central conference table that takes up the bulk of the space has a magnetic underside, able to hold all of the props suspended, allowing for seamless transitions from one day to the next without having to alter the lights or stage any major indication of change. The characters begin to dissect time themselves, and eventually settle upon the idea that time is a spiral that progresses with new knowledge while inevitably regressing into age-old mistakes. This is how the plot functions as well. The characters dissect what “story” means as the story occurs around them; time is hypothesized while the very hypothesis encapsulates the body of the work. Certainly this can create confusion for some; those less familiar with Baker's work, or less on board with her style, might easily walk out wondering what they have just seen. With The Antipodes, Annie Baker has created her most self-aware work yet, with every thought being simultaneously literal and allegorical. Perhaps this is why she chose to name the piece "The Antipodes"— two opposing states, both blind to each other, coexisting and telling a story that doesn’t necessarily need to be told, but one you’ll be glad you’ve been told.
(The Antipodes plays at the Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, through June 4, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 55 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30; Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30; Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $30 for performances before May 14, and $60 for performances after May 14, and are available at signaturetheatre.org or by calling 212-244-7529.)
The Antipodes is by Annie Baker. Directed by Lila Neugebauer. Scenic Design by Laura Jellinek. Costume Design by Kaye Voyce. Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau. Sound Design by Bray Poor. Choreography by David Neumann. Stage Manager Laura Smith.
The cast is Phillip James Brannon, Josh Charles, Josh Hamilton, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Danny McCarthy, Emily Cass McDonnell, Brian Miskell, Will Patton, and Nicole Rodenburg.