Buffalo Rising: Characters exert power in strange ways in JOHN at Road Less Traveled Productions

THE BASICS: JOHN, a play by Annie Baker, directed by David Oliver, starring Darleen Pickering Hummert, Priscilla Young Anker, Sara Kow Falcone, and Adam Yellen, opened on September 8 and runs through October 1, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 (September 15 at 8). Road Less Traveled Theater, 500 Pearl Street at Tupper (629-3069). www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org Beer, wine, soda. Runtime almost 3 hours, including two (2) intermissions.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Elias Schreiber-Hoffman (played by Adam Yellen) and his girlfriend, Jenny Chung (Sara Kow-Falcone), visiting the Civil War battle site in Gettysburg, PA, stay at a B&B with mysterious “off limits” rooms run by Mertis Katherine Graven (Darleen Pickering Hummert) and Mertis’s (Kitty’s) friend Genevieve Marduk (Priscilla Young Anker). It’s all about relationships, but it’s also about being watched. Do we ever have control over that? There are strong auras and presences in the house, including three men never seen: Kitty’s ailing husband George, Genevieve’s ex-husband John, and another John who makes his presence known only by cell phone.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Across town, at Torn Space Theater, they’re asking the question: “How do you act if you know that you’re being watched?” In JOHN, at Road Less Traveled, people are watching, including a blind woman hidden in the shadows and an American Girl doll with a shadowy past. It’s creepy, but not in a horror movie way, and despite its length and the two intermissions, it holds your interest.

The direction by David Oliver is sure, even, completely believable, and with a very rigid “fourth wall” which is important here, because, yes, we the audience are watching, but it’s essential that we believe that the actors do not know that. What impressed me most about the direction was that, as long as this play is, it never dragged. That’s also partly due to the playwright who never has all four characters on stage together, so that things are constantly evolving and shifting.
Darleen, Priscilla, Sara | Photo by Annie Baker

The set by Dyan Burlingame is right up there with RLTP’s high standards, wonderfully complicated with the sort of tchotchkes one would expect at a Gettysburg B&B around the holidays, and perfectly constructed to allow three different entrance points (from outside, from the kitchen, and from the second floor rooms). And the sound is superior, too, designed by Katie Menke, with wonderful music by Johann Sebastian Bach (yet another John?) including “Erbarme Dich” (Have Mercy). Very inspired, Ms. Menke. And let’s give a hand to TD Lou Iannone for perfectly timed sound cues (not always the case at Buffalo theaters).

And the actors, sort of a Jewish Repertory Theatre goes on the road, are all old hands at relationship plays. Nice job all.

4 Buffaloes

– Peter Hall