"I do feel like this play is sort of 25 different interests of mine in the past few years kind of all intersecting," describes Baker. John is set in a bed and breakfast in Gettysburg, PA, and follows the painful demise of a relationship on the brink of collapse. Joined by literally hundreds of inanimate objects adorning the set, we, the audience, watch on as the two central characters struggle to keep things afloat. It's a situation that many can relate to, and painfully so. The journey is frightening, uncomfortable and at times, hilarious. Georgia Engel plays Mertis, the inn's cheerful and charming owner — yet another watchful eye over the couple's downfall.
Whilst the idea of "being watched" runs centrally throughout the play, the script explores various other complex themes and ideas like Jungian psychology, culpability and spirituality, which makes for no shortage of interesting discussion during the show's two intermissions. Like Baker's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Flick, also directed by Gold, the play runs just over three hours, which is comparatively short when considering real-life breakups.
"I really was just trying to think about all the ways we can accidentally really screw with each other's heads without bad intentions," explains Baker. "Neither character is ill-intentioned, and I really think they both want the relationship to work and I feel like there's nothing sadder or more horrifying than two people who really want something to work, destroying each other."
Baker says that she'd resisted writing a "relationship play" for some time but was determined to challenge herself in doing so. She also was certain that she wanted to work with Gold again. "I did always know that I wanted Sam to direct it," she says. "Obviously I work with Sam a lot, but I thought it would be a really good match for him."
In their company, it's easy to see why they continue to work with one another. There is an ease and comfort that passes between them, as well as a deep, creative understanding. The two share a love of Scandinavian cinema, which they bonded over during their first meeting several years ago, as well as similar interests in literature and other art forms. This has afforded them several "shared reference points" throughout their collaboration. "Annie does a lot of things brilliantly that would make anybody want to work with her," says Gold, who was recently awarded a Tony Award for his direction of the 2015 Best Musical Tony winner Fun Home. "Annie is always writing in this way where everything is unrepeatable. We have this very organic collaboration that's kind of hard to repeat."
Gold attributes much of their success to the fact that Baker writes very specifically: She writes with certain directors and actors in mind, such as with Engel for the role of Mertis in John, and is very detailed with her mise-en-scene. "We've had these successful collaborations and a lot of the reason is I have a writer who's not writing abstractly it's a beautiful opportunity to work in a way that's not set up to fail," he explains.
"She's very involved, so our connection is much closer than a lot of my other collaborations with writers," he affirms.
While Baker and Gold have found a way to collaborate that is mutually productive, they are both intent on continuing to improve their creative partnership. With John, the duo saw it a prime opportunity to head in a different direction to past projects and explore new and challenging themes.
"We had good discussions before there was a draft of the play about where we both wanted to go aesthetically and in different places in our work," says Gold. "We both felt like doing the opposite of things that we'd already done."
Baker agrees, recalling the first time that she'd approached Gold about the idea for John. "I'm working on this play, and there's some really weird sh*t in it," she remembers saying to him, with a laugh. "I don't want to have it be just a workplace drama, like a naturalistic workplace drama, I really want to move out of that in my next play."
With a recently announced extension, John continues to draw in audiences Off-Broadway through Sept. 6, whilst the current revival The Flick has also been extended, with performances now set to play into 2016.