Annie Baker has come up with an unusual play, “The Antipodes,” that purports to explore the state of communication in our times and perhaps beyond. She sets up a think tank in which employees of some vague organization sit around a table and tell stories in hope they will lead somewhere. The participants mostly shoot what amounts to a load of bull, but occasionally entertaining bull even though all is going nowhere.
What is Baker up to? It is a question often applied to her plays, and during the nearly two intermission-less orgy of talk, you may ponder the question about this work as well as grow restless.
The setting is an oblong table with seven men and one woman sitting around it. The boss, who answers to an unseen higher boss, is Sandy, played obtusely by an amusing Will Patton, who spouts nonsense about arriving at some great plane of communication breakthroughs. He asks the employees who haven’t a clue as to where they are headed to tell stories. At first they talk about their initial sexual experienced, and Emily Cass McDonnell as Eleanor shocks the guys with explicitness they don’t expect.
The object is for all to tell stories to see how many there can be in the world, and there is a continuous stretch, at one point leading to musing on the beginning of time. The days go by without the thinkers leaving, except for Sandy, and the day changes are marked by the appearance of Nicole Rodenburg as Sarah, an attractive secretary with an amusing cadence to her voice, each time in a new outfit.
The bull piles up until it is clear there is nowhere else to go and the gang will be unemployed. Sandy, who is philosophical about the experiment, guarantees they’ll be paid for a few months while they look for other work. With so much useless talk, perhaps the playwright is satirizing the political think tanks that exist, or the process of trying to create movies or shows by coming up with fresh ideas. Or she may be forecasting a time when there is nothing left to say in the world that is original.
Whatever Baker’s intent, her message could have been delivered in a much shorter time. During the supposedly intellectual slog we witness, all the performances are good and mesh into a well-honed ensemble under the direction of Lila Neugebauer. The cast also includes Phillip James Brannon, Josh Charles, Josh Hamilton, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Danny McCarthy, and Brian Miskell, with Hugh Dancy providing a the voice of Sandy’s unseen boss Max. Do you have a story to tell? At the Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed April 30, 2017.