By Lali Gill
“May your love affair with the universe continue.” Annie Baker’s plays are unlike any others I know. In every story, Baker weaves ideas and questions in an intricate tapestry, leaving you to pick at the stitches until you find what makes you tick - what resonates. John is no exception to that, and presented by Outhouse Theatre Co and Seymour Centre, this production of Baker’s award winning play could not have been better.
As lush red curtains open, we are treated to a mystifyingly detailed set, which is, without giving away too much, a little unnerving. John follows young Brooklyn couple, Elias and Jenny, who decide to stop by a bed and breakfast for a couple of nights on their way home from a trip visiting family. This unique establishment is the home of Mertis Katherine Graven (though she prefers going by ‘Kitty’). Though the opening act sets up a dive into the supernatural, or even horror, what we’re really left with is a beautifully nuanced exploration of loneliness, trust, and partnership.
Baker’s intricately layered text is fully realised under Craig Baldwin’s faultless direction. He masterfully guides the expert cast, their performances growing ever more impressive as the play ticks along. Baldwin’s ability to so perfectly bring Baker’s words to life is a wonder. Though the show tackles bigger ideas than just a haunted house, there is still a consistent push and pull of suspense at play. We witness betrayal, loneliness, and hurt, and we’re made to hold it for the night, even if we don’t quite know what we’re holding at all. Sporting two intermissions, including a little surprise that ends the second act, the three hour play could sound like a tough sit, but the pacing never disappoints. I could have sat there for another couple of acts if someone offered.
Belinda Giblin as Mertis is simply tremendous, her depiction of this complex character is at once wonderfully sincere yet quite ominous, a gripping line to tread which kept me mesmerised. The delivery of her monologue at the end of the play brought me to tears; with her earnestness and calm strength unwavering, I truly felt I was there with the characters, eating biscuits at the table. James Bell as Elias and Shuang Hu as Jenny both impressed with their youthful charm and painfully relatable interactions. The text felt very real in their hands, and no moments felt rushed. Bell’s performance was especially dynamic and his comedic timing spot on.
Maggie Blinco’s Genevieve (an old friend of Mertis’) brought a dynamic and comedic energy to the story, and was a total crowd favourite. Her words always felt so carefully chosen - weighted and particular.
Jeremy Allen’s design on this production is, as expected, inspired and masterful. The set of John really is one you have to see for yourself to believe, and is the most stunning transformation I’ve ever seen the Reginald undergo. Sound by Melanie Herbert lifted the production tremendously and often brought us additions that completely lifted a moment from great to brilliant.
Baker’s John is a story that sticks with you; the morning after, and probably the morning after that, too. Outhouse Theatre Co has presented a show so intricate it takes more than the time you’re watching it to fully grasp it - the kind of story-telling that reminds you why it is that we make theatre and see theatre in the first place. Outhouse continues to make work you seriously don’t want to miss.
Image Credit: Clare Hawley
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.