Reviewed by John Nathan
Annie Baker’s plays have two particularly noted effects on audiences. For many the impression of time passing at the same pace as it does in real life becomes so intolerable they walk out. For others there is a thrilling tension created by people doing unremarkable things until the drawn out moment is punctuated by dialogue.
For the vast majority who stay in their seats the rewards are profound and often very funny. The setting of her latest, which was first seen in New York earlier this year, is a north California health spa where residents are treated for chronic pain.
The entire uninterrupted hour and forty five minutes takes place on the spa’s outside space where several sun beds are used by residents to while away the hours, days and weeks.
For new resident Sofi (Christina Kirk) this is a chance to read. But George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda cannot maintain its grip in the face of chat from her fellow patients. Yvette (Mia Katigbak) has a cousin whose job is to narrate pornography for the blind. What reading session could survive that conversation?
The time-line of James Macdonald’s beautifully paced production is periodically shoved forward with Sofi’s helpful announcements that the play has progressed by twenty minutes or sometimes eleven hours. Twilight, night and the blinding wattage of Californian days arrive and leave with the suddenness of a switch being thrown. Meanwhile, something of humanity is revealed, though exactly what is up for debate. Our yearning for cure, perhaps, whether ill or not.