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John @ Signature Theatre Co.

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #1
Posted: 7/25/15 at 1:31am

Slight Spoilers? 


I just got back from seeing John, the new play by Annie Baker at Signature. It started at 7:30pm and we go out around 10:30pm. 2 intermissions. 


I haven't seen the Flick, so I can't speak to the similarities, but it starts out with an extended silence as we watch the Bread and Breakfast owner set up the place - she also acts as the master of ceremonies in a way - then a couple arrives. And they go upstairs, leaving us to listen to their conversation through the set, basically. It's muffled and goes on for awhile, and then there's silence again. 


There isn't much of a plot per say, it's more of a character study of this couple working their problems. There is lots of talk about "people watching over you" and spirits and ghosts, etc. 


 


After I sort into Baker's style, I felt like the play really flew by. I don't quite get why there were so many pauses between lines. I don't think the actors were really "playing" the pauses. It just felt like they'd stand there, blank faced, and stare. Wait a second. And then say something. The first half felt very jolted, but the second and third acts were beautifully written. 


The two older ladies - I don't have my Playbill - were incredible. They really carried the show. There's a little something before the last Act happens, that's pretty interesting. 


Gold directed it well. He has some nice touches, but overall it's pretty straight-forward. 


I'm just not sure I totally grasp the concept. There's a lot of spiritual talk and whatnot, but none of it plays out, at all. There is no pay off for that. Which is maybe the point? Overall it wasn't totally satisfying, but interesting, and the performances made up for any lackluster. 


Also, the curtain was seated? Kind of interesting choice. 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #2
Posted: 7/25/15 at 4:11am

By two old ladies, I assume you mean Lois Smith and Georgia Engel, two great actresses. Glad to hear it's pretty good. I've only seen one Baker play live (The Aliens), but I believe the silences are supposed to make the play seem hyper realistic. Sorry to hear that they didn't really work.

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #3
Posted: 7/25/15 at 10:01am

I saw John last night and .... meh. The 1st act had lots of slow movement (which I understand was a la the Flick) and I didn't love that, but I was with her. The 2nd act has more action and I was still there, but wondering where is this going? But the 3rd act was the kitchen sink and then some. It's like she didn't know how to wrap it up so she just included every bit of stuff she could think of hoping it would gel. It's an early preview and I don't know if some of that stuff will get dropped... my friend thought not, once you're up with an audience you're solid. IMHO it felt like she had an idea and rushed it to the stage.. some aging might have helped her find what she was really after. But I don't think hot playwrights are afforded that luxury anymore. 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #4
Posted: 7/25/15 at 10:47am

Afforded that luxury? Nobody held a gun to her head and said she HAD to take so many different commissions at once. 

"I know now that theatre saved my life." - Susan Stroman
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #5
Posted: 7/25/15 at 1:49pm

Iluvetheater... I think you and I are saying the same thing but differently. I'm sure when you're hot there's pressure to collect all the cherries while they're being offered.... the next hot playwright is just around the corner.  I remember in the movie Shakespeare in Love the phrase "penny a page vagabond" being thrown at Will... and I don't think the play writing profession has changed all that much since (Shakepeare's time that is, not the movie). 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #6
Posted: 7/25/15 at 9:19pm

By no means does the production feel rushed. I mean, it's fully fleshed out, but yeah, I think I'd agree that the story feels a little slight. Unless, again, that's her intention, which we don't know. There's a lot of talk of ghosts and ghost stories and scary stories and haunted rooms, and there's even an instance where the male reads a pass of someone's notebook and a piano starts playing. But none of that is ever explained or, honestly, mentioned? I thought, oh, Engel must be the showrunner. She's like the mastermind behind all the weird stuff happening. But there's no pay off for any of that. 


Also, I understand that life is full of awkward pauses, but to see a show that is 3 hrs long with numerous awkward pauses, I think it kind of tarnishes the idea. Not every question requires someone to pause for a full minute before speaking. I don't think that's how human being interact. But maybe that's just a style/taste thing. 


And yes, I didn't mean to lessen them by calling them "old ladies." I just didn't have my Playbill, but, to me, they were the reason to see the show. I can't imagine anyone else playing those two parts. They were hilarious in their deliveries. 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #7
Posted: 7/26/15 at 1:30am

I haven't seen this yet, but I have to say I felt like The Flick really suffered for all the long, drawn-out pauses.  Aliens was natural without that affect, and much more enjoyable.  


I actually ushered for a performance of Flick where Baker and Gold answered questions afterwards, and it was not the greatest experience--between the theatergoers who were upset at the length of the piece, and Baker's and Gold's firm attitude that those viewers were all wrong and that it elevated the play, period.


As much as I love Engel and Smith, this thread is not making me want to see John!

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #8
Posted: 7/26/15 at 8:09am

^


April,


It's so nice to have you back where you belong.


As for the play, it's as dull as dishwater and about equally as appealing. And long. Extra long.


The pauses and silences are many, the verbiage copious. Meanwhile, the seconds tick off and time crawls by. In the end, it all adds up to nothing, except three hours and twenty minutes of our precious time down the drain.



There's a pretty Christmas tree, a jaunty piano rendition of Me and My Shadow, and an excerpt from the doll's aria in The Tales of Hoffmann. How I wish I could have been attending a performance of that instead!


The actors are served Vienna Fingers in the course of the performance. Would that the members of the audience could have been similarly regaled!


 


 

Updated On: 7/26/15 at 08:09 AM
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #9
Posted: 7/26/15 at 9:40am

Seeing it tonight. Though judging from the posts in this thread, I may not be staying for all of it. 

I think there is a wonderful playwright in Baker. I so enjoy READING her plays. But seeing them is a different story. They are weighed down by unnecessary and ludicrous pauses. From what I understand, she actually demands a certain amount of time for each pause. Though I'm not quite sure if that's true or not.


I'm going tonight because I'm intrigued by Engel and Smith's casting. But a thin plot for 3 hours sounds awfully disappointing. 

"I know now that theatre saved my life." - Susan Stroman
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #10
Posted: 7/26/15 at 8:07pm

I wouldn't doubt that she demands the pauses. Which could be by the actors weren't exactly "acting" the pauses, but just standing there waiting to say their next line. Maybe that will be more fluid throughout previews, but I found it frustrating. 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #11
Posted: 7/26/15 at 10:01pm

I was lucky enough to be on an aisle seat tonight and walked out halfway through the second act. Engel was charming in the first, but I only stayed in hopes Lois Smith might pick up the action. Then they went and stuck one of our finest actresses in a pair of sunglasses. I understand her character is blind, but to lose out on those piercing, soulful eyes?

The pauses are insufferable. At least 15 minutes of the first act is spent in silence, and a good 5 minutes of stage activity happens offstage and is barely audible (on purpose) I assume. The set is lovely, but by no means ENTERTAINING enough for 10 minutes of inaction. 

I think there is a magnificent playwright in Annie Baker. On paper, I think her plays are gorgeous. On stage, they're insufferable. I don't understand her fascination with the silences. Perhaps it's just not my thing. And that's okay too. Some may LOVE it. More power to 'em. 

"I know now that theatre saved my life." - Susan Stroman
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #12
Posted: 7/26/15 at 11:36pm

I've no problem with silences if things are occurring, but this seems a little gratuitous. And you didn't miss much in Act 3 except for more pauses and music changing and clock turning. 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #13
Posted: 7/27/15 at 10:54am

Sounds rough. Sad to hear Annie Baker finally went off the deep end, though it seems the flick might have been that way too onstage (it reads excellently).

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #14
Posted: 7/27/15 at 11:02am
I'm seeing this at the end of August, on a talkback night. I'm very curious.
"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #15
Posted: 7/27/15 at 11:06am

Fantod, Annie Baker has not "finally" gone off "the deep end," whatever that means. You shouldn't make statements based on the comments of one poster with a well-known bias against this playwright (and who hasn't enjoyed an original play since The Green Pastures) and one poster who states in his post that he doesn't enjoy watching Baker's plays performed. I saw the show over the weekend and was so taken with it that I immediately bought tickets to see it again. My thoughts (originally posted on ATC) here:


I caught the matinee of Annie Baker's John, a world premiere and the first play of her residency at Signature Theatre Company. It's also her first new play -- if I'm not mistaken -- since her Pultizer Prize-winning The Flick, and I imagine the response to this one might be even more divisive.

The plot -- what plot there is -- is fairly simple. A young couple (played by Christopher Abbott and Hong Chau) check into a bed and breakfast run by a sweet old lady (Georgia Engel). Gradually, we learn that the couple is struggling to keep their relationship together. The innkeeper -- Mertis Katherine, or Kitty -- flits around, offering cookies, tea, and ethereal commentary. There is also a fourth character -- played by Lois Smith -- who doesn't make her entrance until the second act, but who is very important to the overall piece. However, I don't want to say more, to keep my spoilers at a minimum.

The trademarks of Annie Baker's work that enthrall some and infuriate others are all here. There are long silences. There is a fair amount of dialogue that takes place off-stage, so the audience can only partially hear/comprehend it. There are stretches of non-sequiturial dialogue. While the audience responded warmly at the curtain call yesterday, there were many walk-outs at the first and second intermission.

Personally, I loved the experience -- and it proved, yet again, the Lois Smith is pretty much peerless. From the moment she makes her entrance, she commands the stage, even when she is completely silent. Even when she's not the focus. And Annie Baker has written some particularly juicy monologues for her, which she absolutely relishes.

Georgia Engel is also wonderful. The two younger actors are very good, but they didn't seem completely settled into their roles yet. I think they will both get there.

Yesterday's running time was 3 hours and 5 minutes.

"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #16
Posted: 7/27/15 at 11:38am

AC, thanks for your post. I agree with you entirely. I do think that there's a wonderful play in there, and I'll probably enjoy it quite a bit when it goes to press. (And I *will* read it.) But dealing with all those silences and pauses isn't for me. I feel it's important to admit that.

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #17
Posted: 7/27/15 at 11:51am
I respect your opinion and I'm sure it's genuinely held. It just irks me when people make statements like "so-and-so really fell of the deep end," especially when they haven't seen the work in question.
"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #18
Posted: 7/27/15 at 12:40pm

AC, I totally agree with you. I totally enjoyed it in the moment, but my problem is that it all adds up to nothing. There's no pay off, there's nothing. Why do we need to listen to an extended conversation off-stage? Isn't every bit of dialogue suppose to be carefully crafted for us, so we're only hearing the important stuff? So why do we need to sit there and listen to ramblings we can't really comprehend? Was does that do to help us better understand the themes of the play? Etc. 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #19
Posted: 7/27/15 at 2:36pm

AC, I wasn't responding to eight, I was responding to all the posters who said that the pauses didn't work for this play. I've read all of her work and I will read this play (if it extends long enough I might even see it), but it sounded like the pauses crossed the line from naturalism and into indulgence. I'm really glad to hear you liked it, and I'm glad it isn't all bad news.

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #20
Posted: 7/28/15 at 9:33am

It wasn't me who said that, AC. I can understand and respect your point-of-view, and as they say, "to each his own".

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #21
Posted: 7/28/15 at 10:07am

That part of my comment was a reference to Fantod's remarks, not yours, iluv.

"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #22
Posted: 7/30/15 at 1:31pm

I saw this last night and thought it was fantastic. After reading some previous comments on the thread I went in expecting very little to happen. The first act did take some getting used to but I was hooked around 10 minutes into the second act.


I thought the plot was great and moved along at a very steady pace. It never felt long or drawn out and there were no unnecessary silences in my opinion. The story about the relationship was very unnerving and...real. It felt vivid to me and made me very uncomfortable in certain moments without being overly dramatic. The audience audibly gasped on a few occasions - we were in it 100%!


The cast was great all around but the obvious standout is Georgia Engel who is giving an amazing performance. My heart was with her throughout the evening. (No spoiler here but when she said, "Are you going to another B&B?" I almost teared up.) I highly encourage everyone to see this - if anything it's worth sitting through just for Ms. Engel.


Great work once again from Annie Baker and Sam Gold. Very happy I went to see this.


If anyone has specific questions let me know - I'm never good at giving reviews on this board :) Thanks all!


 


 


Side note: I was sad to see that once again the audience was 100% white. I wish there was some diversity in our theater-going audiences. Even at Hamilton the audience was still about 90% white. What is going on?

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #23
Posted: 7/30/15 at 1:34pm

I'm curious to know what you'd consider the "plot" to be? No being rude, just curious since you said the plot picked up in Act 2. 


And really the actual silences didn't bother me. It was the pausing between lines that grew tiresome for me. The actual moments of silence and stillness were totally welcome. 

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #24
Posted: 7/30/15 at 1:55pm

You're not coming off as rude at all - I'm happy to discuss and I appreciated what you had said on this board! :)


Without getting too specific I think the plot dealt with the trauma associated with being in a relationship where either you or your partner had an affair and lied about it. It's also about being in a relationship where one person is very stoic and the other is very "touchy-feely" and trying to make those two versions of love work. That covers what was going on with the central couple but all of the characters suffered trauma stemming from romantic relationships and/or marriages.


The "ghosts" were all past relationships: dead, sick or divorced husbands, secret lovers...those people were haunting everyone and wouldn't leave. I can't speak to the doll's relevance (Samantha) but I would love to get in another viewing to dissect that. Two characters had a relationship to that doll and both were very different - whereas Kitty takes care of her "matter", Jenny was scared of it and wouldn't sleep with it.


I honestly cannot say there was a single moment where I thought there was an unnecessary pause - I didn't even notice the pauses. It all felt very natural to me. A lot of shows are packing in as much as they can in a tight ninety minutes or 2.5 hours. This took it's time and didn't try to be more than what it was.


I will say that it helped having read your posts before going in because my expectations were...adjusted. I wasn't waiting for a big payoff. However, I think I still would have enjoyed it because it follows the same tone and trend as her past few plays. I also really enjoyed 10 Out of 12 in much the same way.

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John @ Signature Theatre Co. #25
Posted: 7/31/15 at 4:02pm

Theatergoer: Thanks for taking time to share your insight and opinion. I'm seeing this in two weeks and, as a fan of both The Flick and 10 Out of 12, I was happy to read your take on this.


I bought the ticket more out of curiosity to see Georgia Engel and Lois Smith. But thanks to you,  I'm also very, very excited!