Annie Baker’s latest comic drama, the much anticipated and pandemic-delayed “Infinite Life,” at the Atlantic, is “Antipodes” ’s exact opposite: arid where the 2017 play is flooded; featuring mostly women, with a single, token man. It’s also a surprisingly sincere, even passionate answer to her earlier horror-satire’s question about affliction in art. At a clinic north of San Francisco, patients are fasting to arrest the diseases—cancer, chronic Lyme—that are consuming them. As they starve, their metabolisms slow, and, for some, their symptoms recede. “The Antipodes” and “Infinite Life” are both waypoints in Baker’s thinking about suffering, but, for all its references to pain-as-hellfire, “Infinite Life” isn’t infernal. Where nothing is fed, nothing can grow, so nothing can die. Mortality is on hold. The clinic is a Purgatory for its patients—but it’s also a kind of bizarre Eden.
Not that it’s lush. The word “paradise” is from the Persian for “walled garden,” and in James Macdonald’s exquisite production, designed by the collective dots, the emphasis is on the wall. A brick patio full of deck chairs has been set against a concrete-block breezeway with a stylized floral pattern—reminiscent of both sixties motels and Moorish courtyards—which is itself set against an adobe wall. We spend much of “Infinite Life” watching five women waiting out their treatments on these lounge chairs. (One might be reminded of the row of seated women in Caryl Churchill’s post-apocalyptic “Escaped Alone,” from 2016, which was also directed by Macdonald.) They have water bottles, a few books, and the strange, droll clarity that comes after not eating for days. They each have an invisible companion, too—pain so indescribable that they can only really talk about other things.