Infinite Life review: Annie Baker’s play about women in pain is full of small wonders

There are subtle moments of quiet awakening in Annie Baker’s play about five women sprawled on sunloungers at a health farm, hoping to cure their pain

Alice Saville
Friday 01 December 2023 12:22 GMT
Kristine Nielsen (Ginnie), Brenda Pressley (Elaine), Marylouise Burke (Eileen) and Mia Katigbak (Yvette) in ‘Infinite Life’
Kristine Nielsen (Ginnie), Brenda Pressley (Elaine), Marylouise Burke (Eileen) and Mia Katigbak (Yvette) in ‘Infinite Life’ (Marc Brenner)

There’s a special way to watch an Annie Baker play: you have to abandon the wait for something to happen, stop expecting to be amused, be ready for meaning or beauty to bubble up where you least foresee it. You’d probably need a similar mindset to survive a quack water-fasting cure in the California desert, like the group of sufferers her latest play focuses on. As their normal lives ebb away, miracles occur.

Sofi (Christina Kirk) has imprisoned herself here in the hopes of treating a genito-urinary health condition – one she’s initially too embarrassed to mention in front of the older women who recline hungrily, uncomfortably on this clinic’s sun terrace. After dark, she leaves obscene voicemails for her lover, penitent ones for her husband. She’s punishing her soul, as much as her body.

But soon, unexpected comfort arrives. At first, the other women’s stories of chronic pain are background noise, like the distant motorway traffic: as Yvette, Mia Katigbak delivers a memorable monologue where she recites her health woes with impassive thoroughness, like she’s describing a minor but complex road accident. Baker’s writing is frequently hilarious, taking relish in the absurdities of sphincters and fad diets and competitive suffering, making laughter catch your throat without ever surrendering to neat punchlines.

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