Charlatans and Cancer in California

“If I’m not reading it all the time it seems really boring, but once I’m into it it’s like the most entertaining thing in the world.”

Sofi on Daniel Deronda

Christina Kirk as Sofi. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

There are sun loungers and the fully clothed.  Behind the wall is the noise of traffic and birdsong and the smells of a bakery.  The bakery smells are troublesome because the women staying in this bogus health facility are on a two week fast to cure their pain from cancer and other serious disease.  They can drink water and drink a green juice but nothing else.

The clinic was once a motel and in front of the wall are those ugly, monotonous cement blocks used as a cheap backdrop.  There are no plants and nothing to look at in this deliberate set by dots. We will feel the boredom of these patients, the director James Macdonald using silences to emphasise the “nothing happens” aspect of their situation.   

Sofi (Christina Kirk) is 47, separated from her husband with extreme bladder pain making sex painful but who also finds her desire to have sex is heightened.  She is here in Northern California for the first time hoping to cure her bladder illness.  She is much younger than the other women who are around retirement age.  She is reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda

Kristine Neilson as Ginnie, Brenda Presley as Elaine, Marylouise Burke as Eileen and Mia Katigbak as Yvette (Photo: Marc Brenner)

There is an inertia to Annie Baker’s play written before the pandemic but delayed by it.  The play is not about the women being exploited by quackery but having watched a close friend die from cancer who clutched at promises of a cure, I am very aware of chicanery in the context of the desperation of the dying and those in chronic pain. The only hope from these “cures” would have been psychosomatic, the belief in a miracle becoming a reality. 

The first thing the director said was for the actors to walk hesitantly communicating the pain in every movement.  The oldest is Eileen (Marylouise Burke) who is really doddery and believes in Christian Science and leaves when the conversation is too sexually explicit for her taste.  We watch as Elaine walks painfully out of the sun lounger area. Ginnie (Kristine Neilson) will educate us on the number of sphincters in unlikely places in the human body, Elaine (Brenda Pressley) is colouring in a colouring book.

Yvette (Mia Katigbak) tells us that she has returned because “the cancer is back”.  Yvette talks about a friend who describes porn movies for the blind.  Yvette has steeped herself in medical information and misinformation from the internet, listing off her multiple symptoms and diseases and the drug answers “clotrimazole and econazole and fluconazole and ketoconazole and itraconazole and voriconazole” all anti-fungals to treat vaginal thrush. 

It is the arrival of a lone man Nelson (Pete Simpson) who raises Sofi’s desire for sex but his open marriage has a startling pre-condition which is designed to kill anyone’s desire.  Infinite Life didn’t inspire me to recommend it. 

Pete Simpson as Nelson. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Production Notes

Infinite Life
Written by Annie Baker

Directed by James Macdonald 



Christina Kirk

Kristine Nielsen

Marylouise Burke

Mia Katigbak

Brenda Pressley

Pete Simpson


Director: James Macdonald

Set Designer:  dots 

Costume Designer: Asta Bennie Hostetter

Lighting Designer: Isabella Byrd

Sound Designer: Bray Poor


Running Time: 105 minutes without  an interval

Booking to 13th January 2024 


Dorfman Theatre

National Theatre

Upper Ground

South Bank

London SE1 9PX

Rail/Tube : Waterloo

Telephone: 020 7452 3000


Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Dorfman

on 30th November 2023