Steppenwolf provides ‘First Look’ with ‘Annie Bosh is Missing’

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is currently in the midst of its “First Look” series, which stages new works by up-and-coming playwrights. This marks the eighth year the company has produced this series, which aims to develop the original works for future production either at Steppenwolf or other major theaters around the world.

Among the original works being debuted during “First Look” is “Annie Bosh is Missing.”  Written by Janine Nabers, a Juilliard graduate and New York Theatre Workshop fellow, “Annie Bosh” presents itself as a series of seemingly incongruent vignettes revolving around the titular character’s life in Katrina-wrecked Houston. 

Annie Bosh (Caroline Neff) is the quintessential troubled soul with a controlling mother and an absent father to only complicate matters. She has only just gotten home from rehab before things seem to start crumbling again. She has an altercation in a bad part of town and gets her purse stolen. She obtains a job but almost forfeits it to get drunk with a teenager. She visits an old friend in an attempt to reconnect, only to find out she’s still using and can only act as a bad influence.

Meanwhile, she keeps making calls to a mysterious man and trying to thwart her mother’s attempts to destroy any shred of privacy she might have. It all comes to a head when the mismatched people in her life collide suddenly, as if by fate. As Katrina’s diaspora overwhelm the city, almost like refugees in a foreign land, Annie ironically feels just as out of place, in her own home.

Nabers adds tantalizing hints of conspiracy throughout the plot in clever ways. Throughout the first act, Annie repeatedly calls a man named Samuel (Phillip Edward Van Lear) on her cell phone, and we see him answer slightly to the side of the stage. She hangs up promptly after “hello” and he goes about his day off set. This can be jarring, but it works to instill an exciting eeriness. This device was detrimental only once, when minor character Ned (Ian Paul Custer) goes on a suicidal, spiral notebook-contorting tangent that is never fully explained, or even brought up again.

Other ancillary characters seem similarly underdeveloped before they disappear from the plot completely. This sounds unsettling, something that feels like an oversight on the writer’s part, when really, it makes perfect sense: Bosh has a knack for making people leave her life almost as quickly as they came into it.

“Annie Bosh is Missing,” as well as original works “Buena Vista” by Edith Freni and “The Gospel of Franklin” by Aaron Carter, will be playing at the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre at 1624 N. Halsted St. Student tickets can be purchased for $15. There are also three free readings of new plays as part of First Look, which you can learn more about at steppenwolf.org/firstlook. The festival runs through August 25.