By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
“John” is a v-e-r-y long, but intensely interesting and satisfying mystery penned by Annie Baker of “The Flick” fame, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Signature Theatre is giving “John” its DC premiere. The setting is a rather creepy Bed and Breakfast in Gettysburg, Pa, every inch filled with dolls, tchotchkes and Christmas lights that blink on and off unsettlingly.
The mystery hinges on a young couple, Jenny and Elias, who on first meeting appear to be fine. Later, though, we learn that all is not well. Jenny (Anna Moon) has recently had an affair with someone named John while still in a supposedly monogamous three year relationship with Elias (Jonathan Feuer)). Jenny is fragile and almost child-like, and is disturbed by the presence of a doll she recognizes from her childhood. She focuses on this doll and on her feelings about it and other dolls and “matter” and expresses her view of life through them.
Elias, on the other hand, is trying to work out his feelings of being betrayed. Though Jenny has said over and over again that she’s faithful, every word she says becomes for him reason to suspect she’s still lying to him. He seems unhinged and irrational, leaving her alone for long periods. The writing of these scenes is disturbingly real and unsettling, but fascinating.
Directed by Joe Calarco, the spectacular over-loaded set by Paige Hathaway, mood lighting by Andrew Cissa and Sound Design by Kenny Neal (a huge part of this show, from the lugubrious and often spooky classical music, to things that go bump in the night) make this appear to be your worst nightmare B&B. Add to this mix a weird hostess, Mertis (Nancy Robinette), who seems slightly off and otherworldly, with a blind, possibly crazy friend, Genevieve (Ilona Dulaski), her unseen but always present said-to-be-sick husband, her fluttering about tidying up, turning lights on and off—incessantly—all these will drive you MAD! It’s supposed to…teehee.
Go for Annie Baker’s disturbingly real writing, but stay for the Helen Hayes awarded Nancy Robinette, and the always surprising, but never disappointing Ilona Dulaski! These two women can fill the stage by just being there and breathing! And, if you at times find this show unbearably long, just focus on Nancy Robinette. She gives a master class in acting, often without speaking a word. Makes the evening totally charming and memorable! I can’t get a couple of the scenes/situations out of my mind. Eerie!
And the ending—no spoiler alert here—will, I guarantee you, be worth the wait! Trust me!
NOW PLAYING UNTIL APRIL 29, At Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Va. $40-$94 (703-820-9771) or Sigtheatre.org. About 3 hours 20 minutes (seemed like 4—just kidding!)