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Infinite Life

A person sitting in a chair reading a book

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Christina Kirk (Photo: Ahron R Foster)


Infinite Life


By David Schultz


The sold-out run of Annie Baker’s latest is once again a polarizing experience for audiences. All her usual signature touchstones are on display. As director James Macdonald noted in a recent interview, “She’s a high priestess of silence and stillness.” He’s in tune with the surreal nature of Baker’s work as he creates an almost symphonic rhythm, with the elongated pauses that are Ms. Baker’s calling card.


The spare, minimalist set design by Dots, a muti-disciplinary design collective creating environments for theater and immersive experiences, evokes the porch of a dilapidated treatment center that caters to the chronically ill. Set in the hills of Northern California circa 2019, five chaise lounges will soon be inhabited by a variety of women, and one man in various degrees of pain. They are all waiting for the fasting regimen of water or green juice cleanses prescribed by the treatment center to cure or salve their pain. The subtext of the Covid 19 epidemic just around the corner is up to the audience to discern.


The women are slowly revealed, as they cryptically divulge their intimate lives. One senses that each of these tortured souls have precious little time left on this earth. 


 Sofi (Christina Kirk) has bladder issues and has extreme pain during sex. Recently separated from her husband, she has been secretly sexting a male co-worker with her intimate desires, including a few explicit passages.


Yvette (Mia Ktigbak) a cancer patient, divulges that a distant cousin has narrated video porn for the blind, then quickly details in encyclopedic terms her numerous physical ailments in a dispassionate manner. She was cured once, but now the cancer has resurfaced.


Ginnie (Kristine Nielsen), a retired flight attendant, has her own ailments, but she is the most curious among the group, asking invasive questions.


Elaine (Brenda Pressley) somehow eases her intermittent chronic bouts of Lyme disease with her coloring book, doodling away. Keeping her mind busy keeps the pain at bay.  


Eileen (Marylouise Burke), the oldest of the group and the most visibly weak and ailing, smiles and speaks sotto voce; for most of the play, her inimitable dulcet tones are never far away.


A person sitting in a chair

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Pete Simpson (Nelson) (Photo: Ahron R Foster)


Rounding out these pain-wracked souls is Nelson (Pete Simpson) whose buffed, middle-aged, shirtless appearance surprises and intrigues the ladies. As he plops down onto a chaise, he is well aware of the sudden sexual energy he has sent out. Initially circumspect about his condition – prostate cancer -- he and Sofi have an oddly touching connection that seems to be heading to an intimate situation. 


A group of people sitting in chairs

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Kristine Nielsen, Brenda Pressley, Marylouise Burke and Mia Katigbak. (Photo: Ahron R Foster)


All the action on stage is portrayed in an almost dreamlike manner. In the early portion of the play, Ms. Baker has Sofi marking the passage of time, stating “Later that evening…the next day…two days later…” Lighting effects by Isabella Byrd occasionally match Sofi’s time stamp, cloaking the stage in total darkness at some moments, then blinding morning sun in others. Costume designer Ásta Bennie Hostetter gives the ladies casual clothing to wear, loose-fitting nondescript garb that gives the women a drab appearance.


The pacing throughout is delineated with long, languorous moments of stillness and silence. Much of what is on display is subtle, as this playwright cannily forces the audience to lean forward and observe all the minute interactions onstage. The frequent silences throughout give one the luxury of intense observation as they add to the atmosphere of mystery. The concealing of information at times may flummox some of the audience, but the almost Rorschach-like moments force you to fill in the gaps.



On the surface, initially not much seems to be happening while watching Infinite Life unfurl onstage. But dig a bit deeper and observe the enigmatic and strange ways this play examines extreme pain and suffering, comingled with the mysterious aspects of sensual desire. Many theatergoers are uncomfortable when confronted with this dichotomy. Others are not fazed in the least and relish the experience. Baker’s fanatical following will continue to relish this kind of work, even though occasional patrons walk out in a dazed huff of exasperation.


The first book-length study of Annie Baker has just been released – The Drama and Theater of Annie Baker. Author Amy Muse offers a theory rooted in the metaphysical – she writes, “We fear silence because it seems to indicate an absence of meaning. Indefinite stretches of time, like space fill people with dread”.


Baker’s consistent themes of loneliness, desire, and empathy are on full display with this current sold out play. Notwithstanding the gravitas of the evening, the play does indeed offer occasional bouts of dark humor --not unlike laughing in a graveyard.



Infinite Life

The Atlantic Theater

336 West 20th Street


Running through October 14th