In John, a troubled young couple visit a Gettysburg bed-and-breakfast and try to repair their relationship – but there’s a lot more going on below the surface. We chat with director Erin Murray (pictured above) about the play.
Let’s catch up a bit since you were last here directing Wonderful Life – what is your background, and how did you end up back in the director’s chair at ArtsWest?
I grew up outside Tacoma, WA, so I’m a proud Pacific Northwest artist though I’ve directed projects across the Northern Hemisphere. As a young person I loved acting, but by the end of high school/beginning of undergrad I realized I had a greater zeal for being on the other side of the footlights and shaping what the audience sees – along with supporting the actor as they have difficult jobs. I loved collaborating with Mat when I directed Wonderful Life at ArtsWest and we’ve been looking for the right project to collaborate on ever since. It was an honor to be approached with this play. Annie Baker is a fantastic contemporary playwright whose scripts challenge at every tier of a theatrical production from design to audience reception.
What is your favorite part about directing a play?
Unearthing the heart of a story so that the actors, design team, and audience can feel that they are all sharing a profound understanding of a complex idea or feeling.
Describe John in as few words as possible.
Mystery, ghosts, relationships, and the lives of objects.
What do you think makes John, and its playwright Annie Baker, special?
Annie Baker’s plays are not for everyone. She asks her audiences to slow down and sit in the uncomfortable – she is often thought of as America’s Chekhov. As our lives grow more inundated with hand-held technology, authentication cookies, dating apps, ridesharing services, and voice-command, Baker’s revolutionary use quiet and the uncertain only grows more momentous. John is a unique play for Seattle as it is not directly about our current political climate or a specific social issue, though it has a universal resonance. Annie Baker’s John asks us to consider the many unseen forces in our lives and how much power we surrender to them, willingly or seemingly not.
Why do people need to see this play? What will they be thinking about after they see it?
To be blunt: this play’s cast is out-of-this-world talented. I can hardly contain my excitement for each and every one of them. But after they are finished being star-struck, audiences will be thinking about this show for weeks after. The story is both dream-like and unsettling with a contemporary mystery at its core that keeps you and your friends guessing over your intermission cocktails all the way to the very last minute. The imagery conjured by Baker’s dialogue will linger in your mind long after the curtain goes down.
Annie Baker’s JOHN, directed by Erin Murray, plays at ArtsWest from March 14 – April 7, 2019. Learn more about the play and get tickets here.