The play, “The Aliens” by Annie Baker is much like viewing a Japanese scroll painting. It is not so much the area where the ink has been applied as the large areas left clean that have us staring for long moments at the delicate artwork. Her award winning plays feature extended moments of carefully choreographed silent non-verbal action that is at times more intriguing and fascinating than other playwright’s attempts at dialog and action.
“The Aliens”, now playing at the Dobama Theatre through February 23 is not for everyone and yet should be seen by all. It is minimalist theater that challenges you to pay attention to the slightest detail in order to comprehend the soul of the play. The play is superbly directed by Nathan Motta.
KJ (Alexander V. Thompson*) is a 30 something college dropout who had a mental breakdown while working on his Master’s theses. Along with a regimen of prescription medications he uses various meditation techniques (plus a dash of “magic mushrooms” psilocybin in his tea) to make it from day to day. He still lives with his mother. KJ is the modern version of a hippy seeing life through rose colored glasses. He writes poetry that Jasper puts to music.
*Member of Actors Equity Association
Jasper (Matt O’Shea) lost his mother at age fifteen and was abandoned by his father. He is close to the same age as KJ. He is street wise, a chain smoker, an occasional drug user (mostly pot) and an unpublished novelist. His view on life is extremely cynical. He has seen it all and had it all done to him. Jasper owns a guitar (that at some point years ago he stole) which he plays very well.
These two polar opposites met eight years ago and began hanging out together. At some point they formed a band that had a plethora of names including Jasper’s favorite, “The Aliens”. The pair has managed to survive together on scant resources and the wildness of youth. Their relationship is now of two friends who can express complex thoughts through a look or a nod. The two seem happiest when they perform one of their songs. They are “coffeeshop good” but not great thus contributing to the shattering of another dream of living life as professional performers.
Enter Evan (Joseph Dunn) who is working at the coffee shop for the summer (with a one week stint off as a CIT at a Jewish music camp). He is a high school junior who exhibits the typical malady of teenage terminal self loathing. He has talent and personality but is just not sure how to best express it. Evan has a good heart and an unblemished soul.
KJ and Jasper decide to take this diamond in the rough to cut and polish until a truly human being emerges. Jasper is the more corrupting of the duo, turning Evan on to cigarettes and the poetry of Charles Bukowski as well as excerpts of his own novel. KJ is the Mother Jones in the educational process espousing politics, free love and drug use (he has Evan take a sip of his mushroom tea). At the end of the first act, the education of Evan has begun as July 4th is being celebrated outside their small world behind the coffee shop with aerial displays put on by the town. KJ celebrates with a sparkler supplied by Evan, dancing an earth dance in celebration only to lament when the sparkler slowly burns out thus setting the stage for the second act.
In the second act, a catastrophic event occurs that will change the lives of all three men forever. It is at this time that Evan begins to exhibit the characteristics of both of his mentors as he learns to cope with the loss. With the closing of the play the trio is broken up as travel plans are made and colleges are discussed. The torch is passed to Evan as he learns to shoulder the load of adulthood.
As for the cast, they are superb. It takes huge talent to carry a three man play. Every word and movement has been carefully gone over until the intent is clear. Alexander V. Thompson as KJ brings a warmth to his character that makes you love him in spite of his flaws. Matt O’Shea as Jasper is a simmering caldron that could boil over at any moment except the fact that his life experiences have taught him the futility in doing so. Joseph Dunn as Evan transforms in front of the audience from naïve highschooler to man-child on the brink of maturity.
The set is authentic and bleak. There is the dumpster on the left where the words “The Aliens” has been spray painted on the inside of the lids, there is a ratty picnic table showing signs of dry rot, two cheap plastic chairs and a collection of milk crates. The set lends a feeling of being the final refuge for a failed life. The lighting is superb and the sound level was top notch making for an enjoyable evening.
Prude Alert: There is profanity as well as drug references. There are also some sexual references. If you are sensitive to this then you may wish to find another source of entertainment.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): “The Aliens” is a play that you watch for what it does not have. There is scant action, long periods of seemingly inactivity and a thin thread of plot. It is only through careful observation that you discover the genius of this minimalistic work. It is a play that you must work at to understand, but your efforts will be generously rewarded. See this one.
Tickets are $26 regular, $24 senior for Fridays and Saturdays, $21 regular, $19 senior for Thursdays and Sundays. Student tickets are $10 (full-time, under 25 with a valid ID). Tickets are available by calling the Dobama box office at (216) 932-3396, or by visiting www.dobama.org.
RUSH tickets, available to patrons 21 & younger, are $5. A limited quantity will be sold nightly no earlier than five minutes before curtain time and will be based on seat availability.
Show dates and times:
Thursday, January 30
Friday, January 31
Saturday, February 1
Sunday, February 2
Thursday, February 6
Friday, February 7
Saturday, February 8
Sunday, February 9
Thursday, February 13
Friday, February 14
Saturday, February 15
Sunday, February 16
Thursday, February 20
Friday, February 21
Saturday, February 22
Sunday, February 23
Dobama Theatre is generously supported by many individual donors, and the following foundations and government agencies: The Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, The Cyrus Eaton Foundation, The George Gund Foundation, The Milton and Tamar Maltz Family Foundation, The Harry K. and Emma R. Fox Charitable Foundation, The David & Inez Myers Foundation, The Ohio Arts Council, and Roe Green Foundation. Dobama Theatre is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this organization with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.
Dobama Theatre’s mission is to premiere the best contemporary plays by established and emerging playwrights in professional productions of the highest quality. Through educational and outreach programming, Dobama Theatre nurtures the development of theatre artists and builds new audiences for the arts while provoking an examination of our contemporary world.