Somebody needs to make a call to Scheherazade for an emergency rescue. In The Antipodes, a play about storytelling and storytellers, it is the end of days, but if Baker's once-upon-a-time is apocalyptic, it is also peculiarly undramatic.
Every signature Annie Baker quirk is here: the odd, affectless characters (who here reveal themselves to be boring instead of complex and sympathetic), long silences (here vacant rather than pregnant), plot tangents that intrigue (but here veer off into oblivion).
It begins in a gray, windowless room, furnished with gray ergonomic chairs surrounding a gleaming cherry wood table. Soon the chairs are occupied by a group of people hired to brainstorm stories that will become a TV script. Initially, their boss, Sandy (Will Patton, in what looks like a parody of his Sam Shepard roles) provides the initial guidelines: no dwarves, no elves, no trolls (which is to say, no Game of Thrones?) He commands them to tell the story of their first sex, their greatest regret, etc., assuring them this is a “sacred ” zone, a place of no judgment. The mission is to “change the world and make a shitload of money. We can do anything.” Filmdom – with its token woman and token African American – speaks.
Time passes, after much debate about the nature of time as merely an algorithm or a Hindu Yuga as storytelling circles back to creation myths. Real-time is marked by Sarah, their gofer, appearing in different clothes as she provides endless take-out menus. The outstanding Nicole Rodenburg has reinvented uptalk as an art form as she delivers various reports of family calamities.
During the course of two hours we watch a fine cast, under the dreary direction of Lila Neugebauer, with too little to do. Phillip James Brannon (probably the envy of the others since he gets a long Hieronymus Boschesque monologue), Josh Charles, Josh Hamilton, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Danny McCarthy, Emily Cass McDonnell and Brian Miskell lie on the floor, put their feet up on the table, knit, eat, drink flavored seltzer. Where is the ravishing and heartbreaking popcorn sweeping of The Flick?
Toby Zinman is a theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a regular contributor to Phindie.com, By day, she is an English professor at University of the Arts in Philadelphia.