September 5: John
Annie Baker, the young playwright whose show John just closed at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre, is known for her silences. At the beginning of the script for The Aliens, the play that won Baker an Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2010, she offers a note of direction on the subject:
About the Pauses and the Silences: At least a third — if not half — of this play is silence. Pauses should be at least three seconds long. Silences should last from five to ten seconds. Long pauses and long silences should, of course, be even longer. An intermission is necessary for about ten different reasons. Each act should run around fifty to fifty-five minutes.
>No such note is necessary for John. The director, Sam Gold, has been Baker’s steady collaborator since 2008, and he understands how her silences should sound. After a little exposure, so does the audience. I saw John on a Saturday night on the recommendation of a friend, and for the first five minutes I waited as the people around me learned how to deal with themselves. Their primary instinct was to fill the silences with noises of appreciation — laugh-track laughter and short, breathy snorts; my primary instinct was to be mad at them. But the pauses kept coming, and grew too wide to bridge. This seemed to cause a tiny panic, at first: whispers of What?, audible throat clearing and weight shifting. After a few minutes, we passed through awkwardness and annoyance to the other side, settling into something quiet and sustained, a little bit like church.