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Annie Baker’s The Antipodes review at Signature Center, New York – ‘playfully compelling’

The cast of The Antipodes at Signature Center, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus The cast of The Antipodes at Signature Center, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus
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All theatre is storytelling, but Annie Baker is a playwright who takes this essential truth and strips her plays to the bare bones. There’s little in the way of conventional plot or forward momentum, just a collection of characters telling each other stories. In the case of her 2014 Pulitzer-winner The Flick, those stories were about themselves, as much as they were about the characters in the play: a group of co-workers at an old cinema.

Her new play The Antipodes sees six men and one woman gathered around Laura Jellinek’s shiny, bare, dark wood boardroom table. They are all writers, pitching ideas and themes to their boss Sandy, who wants them to “feel comfortable saying whatever weird shit comes into our minds”.

What follows for the next two hours is just that: people telling stories to each other, including personal anecdotes about when they lost their virginity. the weirdest things that have happened to them and their own perceptions of time and existence.

But maybe, it seems, as they struggle to come up with something original, all stories have already been told. The play becomes an existential crisis about the existential crisis of a group of writers. It’s a playfully compelling piece but there are also darker apocalyptic undercurrents as reports come from the world beyond the hermetically sealed one we’re in.

The drama, such as it is, comes from the delicate interplay of the actors. Director Lila Neugebauer orchestrates them with nuance and feeling. The highly watchable ensemble includes superb TV actor Josh Charles (Will in The Good Wife), whose easy naturalism on screen is translated into an effortless presence here. Veteran stage and screen actor Will Patton also lends a quiet authority to the boss of the writers’ group.

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Annie Baker's latest play is a meticulous meditation on the art of storytelling