Annie Baker is a master of loaded silences

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MOST playwrights are judged by their words—the swordplay of dialogue that animates their work. For Annie Baker, the drama is in her silences. Long stretches of charged silence fill her plays, lighting up the spaces between sentences. They make awkward moments ever so slightly more awkward; quiet moments more noisily quiet. Her plays, which have just earned her a MacArthur “genius” grant, acknowledge that the text of an exchange is often less important than its subtext. It takes a keen ear to hear what is left unsaid.

At 36, Ms Baker has come of age at a time when words themselves are often mistrusted, when the gap between what we say and what we feel seems to yawn, at times unbearably. In an era of irony, language is an unreliable source of meaning. Ms Baker’s humane and often unremarkable characters, most of whom live in the small, made-up town of Shirley, Vermont, do not grant audiences the gift of vicarious eloquence. They can’t be relied on to deliver a well-turned observation or a well-timed quip. Instead, they stumble…Continue reading

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