What does it mean to be haunted?
Haunted can refer to a place where a spirit resides. Haunted can mean showing signs of mental anguish. Or haunted can mean “persistently in the mind of someone”. All these definitions and more are applicable in Annie Baker’s John.
The spirits present in John are the watchers. The watchers are many in this puzzle of a play. They include the spectres of those that remain unseen in the little Bed and Breakfast with secrets of its own, the ghosts of previous relationships, the tchotchkes that sit staring from all over the house, a force greater than ourselves observing from afar, and even the very audience itself. At the heart of the play are yet two more watchers - two older women who witness a young couple struggling to overcome their problems.
John is a haunting play in more ways than one. The poltergeists that emerge come not from ghosts or apparitions, but from the demons haunting each character as they struggle to connect with those they love. Ms. Baker uses this haunted house to unearth many of life’s great questions without trying to provide any answers.
I believe the secret to fully appreciating this masterpiece is to simply become a watcher. Resist the urge to “figure it out” or to put it in a neat little box like a doll on a shelf. Rather, I’d invite you to simply observe and let the characters, environment, and the ideas wash over you. Immerse yourself in the world that Annie Baker and Dobama’s talented theatre artists have created. In the end, you may find that the play’s characters, images, sounds, and provocations will possess you long after the final curtain.
With Love & Respect,