A spooky, funny slow burn in ACT’s John

Mar 10

A spooky, funny slow burn in ACT’s <i>John</i>

There are two Johns in Annie Baker's John, neither of whom we actually meet. One wreaked mental havoc on another person and the other is wreaking havoc on a relationship. Both feel like sinister external forces, but they are just two of many in this wonderfully bizarre, engrossingly enigmatic play by one of our country's most original and captivating voices.

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2012 flasback: 10 to remember

Dec 21

2012 flasback: 10 to remember

One of the things I love about Bay Area theater is that picking a Top 10 list is usually a breeze. My surefire test of a great show is one I can remember without having to look at anything to remind me about it. The entire list below was composed in about five minutes, then I had to go look through my reviews to make sure they were all really this year. They were, and it was a really good year.

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Annie Baker’s brilliant, reflective Circle Mirror

Aug 08

Annie Baker’s brilliant, reflective <i>Circle Mirror</i>

At once the antithesis of drama (nothing's happening!) and a complete exposure of the theater's guts and bones, Annie Baker's has a particular genius for creating simplicity of the most complex variety.

Earlier this year, the Aurora Theatre Company got the unofficial Annie Baker Bay Area Festival off to a strong start with her Body Awareness about sexual politics in the small university town of Shirley, Vermont. Then SF Playhouse dazzled with the low-key but brilliant The Aliens, also set in the fictional Shirley, about three unlikely friends, music, death and growing up.

Now Marin Theatre Company in a co-production with Encore Theatre Company conclude the Bay-ker Area Fest with what has become her most popular play, Circle Mirror Transformation. Even more than the previous two Baker plays we've seen so far, this one feels even less like a play and more like an actual experience – something carefully captured in the real world and observed within the artful frame of a proscenium stage.

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The Annie Baker dead poets society

Apr 19

The Annie Baker dead poets society

So far, playwright Annie Baker is two for two in the Bay Area. It took a while for the country's hottest young playwright to make her mark locally, but she has done it now. Twice. And a third is yet to come later in the summer.

Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company was the first to produce Baker locally with Body Awareness (read my review here). Then SF Playhouse did The Aliens (running through May 5, read my review here). The Baker trilogy concludes (at least for now) in August when Marin Theatre Company and Encore Theatre Company partner on Circle Mirror Transformation.

There's always a danger when a new playwright sizzles into popular consciousness...

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Subtle brilliance in out-of-this-world Aliens

Mar 26

Subtle brilliance in out-of-this-world <i>Aliens</i>

When Annie Baker made her Bay Area debut with Body Awareness at the Aurora Theatre Company, I was impressed by the arrival of an intriguing, intelligent and compassionate new voice on the American theater scene (other folks who had seen Baker's work were already well aware of this). But it turns out that with Body Awareness Baker was only getting warmed up.

Baker's The Aliens is now running at SF Playhouse, and its brilliance is deceptive. The play seems so very simple. Two 30something slackers have nothing better to do than hang out in the staff break area behind a cafe called the Green Sheep in Baker's fictional Shirley, Vermont. Their shiftless idyll is interrupted by 17-year-old Evan Shelmerdine, a new busboy at the cafe who insists, in his halting way, that the slackers can't slack off her. This area is only for staff.

Happily, the slackers – KJ the poet and lyricist and Jasper the aspiring novelist – don't listen to Shelmerdine but instead draw him into their exclusive little club.

The Aliens is an absolutely astonishing play.

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Four hot bodies heat up Aurora’s Body Awareness

Feb 03

Four hot bodies heat up Aurora’s <i>Body Awareness</i>

Drama in the small college town of Shirley, Vermont, is much like it is anywhere: small, intimate and, for the people involved, earth shattering.

Playwright Annie Baker, one of the theater world's most acclaimed and buzzed-about writers, has a particular skill in writing about the lives of ordinary people. She's acutely aware of the comic absurdity and the fissures of sadness and anger that clash continually and cause tremors, both minor and majorly damaging.

Baker is a humane and very funny writer, and the Bay Area is finally getting a taste of her talent in the Aurora Theatre Company's utterly delightful production of her Body Awareness. In true Aurora form, the production gives us a meaty play and performances by a quartet of Bay Area actors that defy you to find a false moment in this up-close and intimate space.

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