Cicadas. Concrete. California.
Sun loungers. Sun cream. Sun hats.
Pain. Pain. Pain.
Annie Baker’s new work, Infinite Life, is as much a poem as a play. Snippets of dialogue are dropped into the silence, and ripple outwards. Time jumps forward, shoved by abrupt, fourth-wall-breaking announcements from protagonist Sofi: “15 minutes later.” “22 hours later.” “The next day.” The only scene changes are the sunshine disappearing, and we have to wait for our eyes to adjust, just as the characters do, to the experience of being awake late at night. Or the lights flick on, bright enough to be painful, and I find I have to look away until I can cope.
Sofi (Christina Kirk) is the newbie. Recently arrived, and on her first day of fasting, she’s trying to read Daniel Deronda. A tough gig at the best of times, but she soon finds herself interrupted by the other ladies, at various stages of fasting regimes intended to cure the otherwise incurable. The mysterious doctor, off-stage, has prescribed five days, eight days, twenty-four. Yvette (Mia Katigbak) sounds disappointed to have been told this time she’ll be doing juice, not water. She tells us, “Everyone has their story,” and hers turns out to be long and filled with misfortune.
This world, of fasting retreats and dubious healing claims, feels far away, further still since the play transferred from New York. Yet the people – yes, mostly women – that Baker portrays feel familiar. The question I might have: how much are these illnesses real, or self-induced, is front-and-centre. Sofi ponders aloud how much she is to blame. Lapsed Christian Scientist Eileen (Marylouise Burke) has her own views on this. There’s the gentle melancholy of those whose lives didn’t go quite how they’d planned. Their discussions, of pesticides and aggressive men, pornography and hunger, hint at disappointment finding a way to show itself.
There is something deliciously understated in this production, and James Macdonald’s direction allows moments to linger and sink in. “A minute of this is an infinity”, one of the women speaks for them all, when describing pain, turning the title into a kaleidoscope.
It’s both unfair and true to say I imagine this play won’t stay with me long. It is a peaceful ride. Yes, at times it is funny, at times shocking, speaking quiet truths about living, and dying. And this is enough.
Review by Ben Ross
A minute of this is an infinity
Five women in Northern California lie outside on chaise longues and philosophise.
Dorfman Theatre, the National Theatre