ULA: Really? We’re making all this food.
NINA: It’s a funeral Ula. Funeral spells food.
ULA: Yeah but who is this for? Just the eight of us.
ULA: I love to eat, don’t get me wrong.
NINA: I thought you liked cooking.
ULA: I do. I do. I’m thrilled.
NINA: We’re going to make a feast.
ULA: We are indeed.
In Antlia Pneumatic, written by playwright Anne Washburn (Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play; 10 Out of 12), a group of middle-aged friends join each other to commemorate the life of a deceased member of their friend group. As the events of the play progress at the childhood home of sisters Nina and Liz, humorous touches surrounding conversations about what to eat during the wake blend together with more surreal elements, memory and dreams. By reading the script we get a deeper look into the lives in Washburn’s play.
Inventive Touches Grace Anne Washburn’s Storytelling
This is a story about friendship, death, and regret told with imaginative touches throughout, in this writer’s view. In a note at the beginning of the play, Washburn shares that “Casey and Wally, seven and five, are only heard, never seen. And the scenes in which the adults interact with them are also only heard.” Music and song frequently appear throughout Washburn’s play, such as when Casey sings a song with lyrics like “Poor little dead guys. / Poor dead little guys. Now the poor ant is dead.”
At one point in the script, Casey and Wally sing Michael Row Your Boat Ashore in a round during a blackout. Reading the play, you can imagine these scenes taking place in total darkness, forcing audiences to engage with parts of the play in their own heads and imaginations. How ripe with theatrical promise this feels!-- pushing the boundaries of storytelling in exciting ways that mirror other aspects of the play’s at-times mercurial approach to exploring humanity.
Antlia Pneumatica Builds Upon A Simple Premise with Supernatural Touches
Imaginative flourishes pepper the script, even in stage directions.
“The stars behind them have been brightening in intensity during this, until the stage is almost a wash of light.
In the blackout:
The brother and sister discuss.”
The script’s reader gets to appreciate thoughts written out in brackets that are thought but not spoken. At other times, characters wax poetic about constellations (including “Antlia Pneumatica,” or “air pump,” a constellation “made up of leftover stars” by a French astronomer in the 1700s.)
All of these supernatural touches gradually build to suggest a sense of interconnectedness between people, places, and the spaces in between. By the end of the play, when several mysteries have a bit more starlight illuminating them, you too may be wholly satisfied with how Washburn chose to wrap up her play, even as echoes of it may continue to haunt you after turning the final page.
This script is likely of great interest to all theater professionals. Though the topic may have special impact on older readers, Antlia Pneumatica speaks to existential questions in ways that will resonate with all generations, including this millennial reviewer.
For more information about or to purchase a copy for yourself, visit TCG Publishing’s webpage for Antlia Pneumatica
Images courtesy of Theatre Communications Group
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