Annie Baker’s John explores the lives of three colorful women and the men that have impacted them. Much like the ghosts of Gettysburg, men haunt Jenny, Genevieve, and Mertis in unique ways. Though only one of these men is onstage, they have a weighted, constant presence.
Elias Schreiber-Hoffman, played by Kevin Meehan, is the only man present. Meehan says, “I’m proud to be a part of a story where I’m the odd man out. Personally, it’s something I’d like to see more of in the theatre.”
Jenny Chung, played by Jing Xu, and Elias come to Gettysburg for a weekend of tourism, but it is quickly revealed that their relationship is in as much danger as the once war-torn battlefields were over 150 years ago. As Elias leaves to go to the sites alone, Jenny remains at their bed and breakfast, nursing menstrual cramps and adding to their tension.
During the play, Elias is experiencing withdrawal symptoms from coming off of Cymbalta. Specifically, he is experiencing “brain zaps,” a sudden feeling of electricity to the brain and disorientation. While researching other symptoms, Meehan said that Cymbalta withdrawal also has effects such as headaches, mood swings, and insomnia. He says, “All of that definitely plays into the behavior of Elias. Ultimately, it clouds his thinking and increases his paranoia.”
Elias has many anxieties throughout the play. His most unique is a fear of birds. He says, “If a pigeon get too close to me I get very weird. A rat is somehow considered dirty. But a bird…people romanticize birds.” However, most of his paranoia lies in Jenny. As given circumstances reveal, Jenny had an affair, ended it, and they are now trying to mend their relationship. Elias questions her acceptance of his Jewish culture, fidelity, and if she has a subconscious hatred for him. He says, “At times like this the fact that you tell me that you don’t have very very deep wells of rage towards me is so obviously um laid bare as a huge whopping lie.” It is, however, her cell phone that causes the most paranoia. Jenny says that she is talking to her sister, but Elias is never able to fully trust her. The possibility of another man remaining in her life hovers over bed and breakfast.
Meehan says that his experience with Philadelphia stars Nancy Boykin and Carla Belver has been fantastic. “I’m inspired by them every day. I don’t remember being intimidated to work with them; mainly curious to see how we all fit together in this story and how our working dynamic would shake down. So far I’m really enjoying the ride and look forward to see everyone’s lovely faces when I come to work everyday,” he said.
Like Jenny and Elias, Genevieve and Mertis have their own hovering ghosts. For Genevieve, she has felt this experience literally. She says, “I was convinced that my ex-husband had taken possession of my soul and that his spirit was trying to destroy me.” For a while, she was in an institution trying to remove him, his judgments, and thoughts, from her body.
Mertis’s experience involves her husband lingering offstage. George, her husband of 13 years, is sick with an undetectable illness. Though he never comes onstage, Mertis busies herself with distracts to keep from the thought of his death. She is also haunted by the memory of her first husband. She says, “I should have gone. But I stayed. And then he died.” His death set her free from her unhappiness, but now she faces the fear of repetition with a man she loves.
John portrays the intimacies of romantic relationships and friendships, challenging the characters and audience at their core. It questions how we connect to each other, our spirituality, and what exists in the air around us.
Buy tickets to John by Annie Baker, playing now through February 26. For the Box Office, call 215.922.1122.