Antlia pneumatica, the air pump, is a constellation of stars discovered by a French astronomer based on his unconventional perception, and it is also an unconventional play by Anne Washburn that begs us to seek meaning through unconventional means.
The set of this play was truly exceptional. From the tree branch that hovers over the whole set, to the intricately ladened kitchen table, the set makes it very easy for the audience to accept fiction for reality, at least momentarily. Several scenes that take place off-stage, and are conveyed through speakers, provides further richness to the overall ambience of the set.
The story of Antlia Pneumatica is an easy one to follow. A close friend, from long past has died, and a group of friends must prep for the funeral. As they bicker about the trivialities of food preparation, the haunting realization takes surface: nobody cares about Sean (the deceased friend) anymore. The loss of friendship and distance, perhaps not a very a ‘foreign’ topic for us foreign students, seems at first to be the central theme of the play. We see the characters fall into a spiral as they deal with their own mortality, with Len's hilarious thoughts about the aftermath of death. The gradual fall of the characters equally into bickering over what to do with Sean and their indifference to his death, causes a foreboding air to loom over both the characters and the audience.
Adrian both enters and leaves the story in a haunting fashion. The initial resistance from the others when he first arrives, and the stories of his promiscuity and breaking of hearts, paints him as a sort of villain. But even the most staunch monogamists will find themselves moved by the stargazing scene between Adrian and Nina. Nina shines through as the most relatable and real character as we see her struggle with her roles as a wife and a desire to transgress into that of a lover for one last time. Unfortunately, other than Nina, the other characters fail to really break out of their singular dimension, falling flat. The play ends with an eerie song about a fallen ant that seems a bit forced in conveying the message of the play which is best left open for interpretation.
The play begs the question of the meaning of our existence and what we may leave behind. Len’s brooding over his own legacy is a worry we might all find relatable. And perhaps Adrian’s finding his own constellation and etching his existence into his reality is the comforting thought to live by. Moments with lack of connection and superficiality are replaced with a rather humane tone as we see two long lost lovers spark an old flame. And I begin to wonder, if the trivialities of the kitchen scenes our lives often mimic have something more substantial to offer us, and if love is what is crushing, solid and real within the illusion of time.