I'm fairly certain that everyone, whether they realize it or not, has been impacted in some way, large or small, by a story they were told by another person, read in a book, or saw on stage, at the movies, or on TV. But with the constant rehashes and remakes of novels, TV shows and movies, are there any new stories to tell? That's the launching point for one of Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker's latest plays, The Antipodes. While it may be a drama with a somewhat vague and meandering plot, it makes for an intriguing study into the current status of storytelling and also how the drive to have a finished work be as successful as possible can impact the creative process in not exactly positive ways. Stray Cat Theatre presents the Arizona premiere of Baker's play in a thought-provoking production with an excellent cast and pinpoint direction.
Under Ron May's expert direction, the ensemble of actors superbly create layered characters who, though we know very little about them except what we hear through the stories they tell, are unique, while also effectively portraying the wide range of group dynamics in a team where no one really knows much about each other. They also do an amazing job in creating realistic expressions and gestures to portray the constant state of anxiety and nervousness that happens when they are never truly certain if what they are coming up with is good enough—and if it isn't, will it mean the ends of their careers?
David Weiss, as Sandy, is very effective at showing how this man is clearly in charge and calling the shots, though he is often distracted by his own personal issues and his fear of not living up to the demands of his own boss. As the two men who have been involved in past think tanks for this company, Michael Peck and Louis Farber do an amazing job of displaying the heightened anxiety and fears that the project may not come to fruition. Dolores Mendoza, Michael Thompson, Eric Zaklukiewicz, Will Hightower and William Wyss add many moments of both drama and humor as a wide range of characters, with each getting several moments to shine, and Shannon Phelps is a knock-out as Sandy's ditzy assistant who tells a story of her past that is truly unbelievable—both the story and Phelps' delivery of it.
Is The Antipodes an absurd satire, or a cautionary tale on how corporate think tank worlds have taken over the Hollywood creative process? Is it a reality check on how there are no original stories left to tell, or how the stories we've been told in our past can take on a life of their own to the point where, over time, we embellish them with unrealistic details but retell them with such conviction that we believe they are factual? Or, does it show that one single writer can still come up with a story that is entirely original and completely engaging? I believe it's all of the above.