Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

American Conservatory Theater
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Eclipsed, Into the Woods, and Beyond Therapy

Stacey Yen, Georgia Engel, and Joe Paulik
Photo by Kevin Berne
American Conservatory Theater is currently presenting an enchanting production of Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker's John with the wonderful Georgia Engel reprising her Off-Broadway performance as the innkeeper. Yes, it's three hours long with two intermissions but that said the time goes whizzing by.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I will say that twenty-something married couple Jenny (Stacy Yen) and Elias (Joe Paulik) arrive at an old bed & breakfast in Gettysburg. He is a Civil War buff and she is just going along for the ride. The house is owned by Mertis, also known as Kitty (Georgia Engel), a strange, lonely woman in her 70s. The house is Civil War vintage, filled with shelves of smiling dolls. As soon as the couple arrives cracks begin to appear in the relationship. It might be a comedy drama about a vacation from hell.

Jenny ends up with stomach cramps and does not go on the Civil War tours, spending time instead with Mertis and her blind friend Genevieve (Ann Mcdonough), an eccentric attuned to the sounds of ghosts in the empty upstairs. She thinks she is possessed by her ex-husband and is well on her way to madness. Those scenes are brilliantly written by the playwright.

Ken Rus Schmoll has assembled four gifted actors for this production. It's a joy to see Georgia Engel as the lovely innkeeper Mertis. Her dialogue is exquisite, and her speech, duplicities, and numerous pauses accompanied by an enthusiastic smile are brilliant. Ann McDonough is outstanding as the blind Genevieve. She has the most thrilling voice I have heard in years, something like Katharine Hepburn whom I saw on stage many times. She appears in character in front of the curtain in the second act and begs the audience to sit for five minutes, then gives a spellbinding performance in under five minutes about her husband possessing her. Stacy Yen and Joe Paulik are exceptional and give excellent performances to support the two women.

Marsha Ginsberg's set is also a star of the show. It's a meticulously decorated living room/breakfast room and with many dolls throughout the set. It's a truly awesome set.

John feels like modern day Chekhov and Annie Baker has created a 21st century nerve-jangler. The New Yorker said this of the drama, "John is so good, on so many levels, that it casts a unique and brilliant light." John is filled with mysteries that don't have conclusions and the end will leave you thinking as you leave the theatre.

Bottom Line: John is an engrossing comedy/drama in which hyper-realism blends into the eerily supernatural.

John runs through April 23rd, 2017, at the A.C.T's Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-749-2228 or at Coming up next in the main ACT'S Geary Theater is Robert Lepage's Needles and Opium running March 30 through April 23rd.

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