Entertainment » Theatre

The Aliens

by TK Hadman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Aug 3, 2015
The Aliens
  (Source: Naomi Smith)

Annie Baker's play "The Aliens" is a gradually unfolding story about the interconnections of friendship, the interiority of emotional experience and the vastness of creative pursuit. Pinch N' Ouch Theatre's production of the award-winning play brings a palpable sense of intimacy to a story about alienation in a place that feels out of place.

The action occurs behind a coffee shop in Vermont. In a way, it's not much of a place at all, accessible mainly by jumping a fence. It's more like a seam between the shop itself and the outdoors. It's a setting created by chance, maybe even necessity, in much of the same way Jasper, KJ and Evan come together.

Jasper and KJ settle in on the spot and we share with them the first of many languid moments. Jasper puffs away on an electronic cigarette and KJ jams out on air guitar, singing to himself. Long stretches of silence, or seeming inaction, make us tune in acutely for every detail or pocket of dialogue. Even a casual remark has some significance later in the story. They talk around things, with an assumed knowledge, instead of talking about them in the self-aware way that other dramatic works tend to have.

We learn a lot about the friendship between these two characters, as well as the one that blossoms with Evan, by watching them simply share space together. Like eavesdropping, we piece together from their conversation that Jasper is brooding after a breakup. Though KJ falters in his attempts to get Jasper to talk or cheer up, it's clear that the pair have a history of looking out for each other.

Evan, new at his job at the coffee shop, initially steps outside to ask them to leave. Jasper and KJ are unperturbed. Through a few more interactions, revolving around Evan taking out the trash, the trio builds a rapport. Evan is experiencing a lot of new things in life, we learn, thus he stands to gain the most from his time with Jasper and KJ.

Baker creates her own intertextuality with the inclusion of her character's original material. Jasper reads excitedly from the newest pages of his novel in progress. He tells Evan about Bukowski a little, but more than that, the characters display themes in Bukowski's writing in their own context. Similarly, Jasper and KJ demonstrate the relationship between life and art while talking about Jasper's novel and in performing a song from their now-defunct band.

Pinch N' Ouch casts remarkably well. Andy Fleming is a gruff but lovable Jasper. His quietude stands in contrast to moments of intensity to great effect; he makes you pay attention to every move. Tanner Gill as naïve and tentative Evan is endearing and relatable. Grant McGowan, Pinch N' Ouch's own founder and Artistic Director, builds an amazing likability with his kookiness that allows us to feel more fully the gut-punch of Act II.

There's something about the combination of delivery and dialogue that makes you feel like you know these characters; they remind you of real people. The narrative's ambling pace demands the actors convey more than just information, using more than just words.

The ideas we take away from their conversations elevate the experience: Do creative things even if you're no good at them. We are all connected on levels we can't express. Stories well up inside of us until we can't help but tell them.

Pinch N' Ouch's intimate theatre space is perfectly suited for a story in which every detail builds upon itself to the inevitable conclusion. Like life, the production seems to resign itself to the situation with very understated denouement, but sends us off with a sense of collectivity in our shared alienation.

"The Aliens" runs through August 23 at Pinch 'n' Ouch Theatre, 195 Arizona Ave in Atlanta. For tickets and information, call 678-231-1262 or visit pnotheatre.org.

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2015-11-08 17:42:43

    Good critique, peeling the narrative back reveals more about the play. What Genre is it?


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