“John” is Waiting for You at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va

Nancy Robinette, Anna Moon and Jonathan Feuer in “John” at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

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.

Ilona Dulaski, Anna Moon and Nancy Robinette in “John” at Signature Theatre.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

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.

Nancy Robinette, Jonathan Feuer and Ilona Dulaski in “John” at Signature Theatre.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

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!

Nancy Robinette in “John” at Signature Theatre.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

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 About 3 hours 20 minutes (seemed like 4—just kidding!)

Sara Dudley Brown

Sara Dudley Brown is the Theatre Editor of The Zebra Press. She graduated with a music degree in voice from Rollins College Conservatory of Music in Winter Park Florida. After several years of professional singing and acting (Disney World and The Kenley Theatres as well as voice-over and film here in the DMV area), trying and failing miserably at being Barbra Streisand (the post was already filled), Sara decided to take her lifelong love of music and the theatre to create a profession which would use everything she had learned theatrically and musically over the years—corporate event production and management. She began with department store events, working for the May Company putting on events in 18 stores, and went on to found her own corporate event management company. She recently retired after 30 years of mounting mega events internationally and domestically for some of the world’s top aviation manufacturers. Now Sara is once again using her years of theatrical work as well as her musical training to review Metro Area professional theatre productions for The Zebra Press. She thinks this is a much more sane way to live and never tires of the excitement of a theatre opening!

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One Comment

  1. I wish I were closer than Florida and could attend “John.” It sounds just fabulous. Great review SDB.

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