Annie Baker’s quiet, gentle and extraordinarily beautiful study of a tenuous connection among three awkward young men may not satisfy viewers accustomed to high-speed narrative. “Something had better happen in the second act,” an audience member near me muttered as the lights came up at intermission.
It’s true that little in the way of traditional “action” takes place in the rising playwright’s 2010 work, set in the shabby backyard of the kind of small-town coffeehouse that continually pipes Edie Brickell and the Indigo Girls over the stereo. (The soundtrack snippets are just one piece of Brando Triantafillou’s spot-on sound design.) Thirtyish slackers Jasper (Steve Haggard) and KJ (Brad Akin) view this patch of land as their rec room, possibly with tacit approval from the management. Timid, teenage new employee Evan (Northwestern undergrad Michael Finley, making an impactful professional debut) at first tries to shoo them away but soon comes under their cool and mildly dangerous thrall.
Director Shade Murray and his fierce cast lean hard into Baker’s lulls, embracing the script’s silences to the point of occasional discomfort. Yet audience members who go along with this small, still story will undoubtedly be moved by its subtle portrayal of how even the slightest intimation of acceptance can change an individual’s trajectory.