Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Two Trains Running

Nancy Robinette, Anna Moon, and Jonathan Feuer
Photo by Margot Schulman
Yes, Annie Baker's play John runs three hours and 20 minutes, with two intermissions, but patient audiences will find a lot to appreciate in the slow-burning drama now in the MAX Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia.

Director Joe Calarco returns to Baker's work at Signature, where he directed a beautiful, moving production of her Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Flick a few seasons ago. That play also has a small cast and a leisurely run time, but it differs from John in that it remains grounded in the everyday, while this play edges into the paranormal and the possible influence of the universe on individuals.

The enchantment begins with Paige Hathaway's obsessively detailed setting of a bed-and-breakfast in a Civil War-era house in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Between the numerous shelves of antique dolls in costume, the dusty books, the electrified tabletop Christmas village (complete with a working train), the numerous accent lamps, and a player piano that seems to have a mind of its own, the result shows just how hard the innkeeper worked to create what she considers rustic hominess.

The sublime Nancy Robinette—who can convey so much with a single sidelong glance or a flicker in her eyes—is Mertis (or "Kitty"), the innkeeper who always seems to be on a low boil. She tells her guests, Elias (Jonathan Feuer) and Jenny (Anna Moon), that she gave them a room other than the one they requested because of "unpredictability" in that room, and later shares that she's "a tiny bit of a mind reader." In a neat bit of scene-setting, she manually resets the hands on the grandfather clock before each scene to demonstrate the passage of time.

Things are strained between Elias and Jenny from their arrival, and the tenseness grows throughout their visit. They've been a couple long enough that they can no longer shrug off the little personal annoyances that rub each other the wrong way. (He eats his breakfast too loudly; she won't let him see who sent her a text message.) They may be living and traveling together, but Jenny finds excuses to keep her distance from Elias throughout the play.

The fourth character is Kitty's friend Genevieve (Ilona Dulaski), who chats at length about both her history of mental instability—she believes her former husband, now dead, continues to control her mind—and the accident that left her blind. She's appealingly forthright and funny, unlike the evasive Elias and Jenny, but she's also capable of surprises.

Signature Theatre
April 3rd - 29th, 2018
By Annie Baker
Mertis: Nancy Robinette
Elias: Jonathan Feuer
Jenny: Anna Moon
Genevieve: Ilona Dulaski
Directed by Joe Calarco
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or