The Aliens
By Annie Baker

Directed By Mike Brooks

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Zachary Burrell and Brandon Cox in The Aliens. Photo courtesy of Theatre[502].

The Aliens is a comedy constructed with such delicacy that it may play poorly to audiences too accustomed to material that bows to the lowest common denominator. It allows its characters room to breathe and interact with each other in ways that will seem too much like real life for comfort. It allows very little distance.

We witness a series of scenes set in a fairly unimpressive open-air space behind a coffee shop. Two highly intelligent eccentrics, KJ (Brandon Cox) and Jasper (Scott Anthony), wile away the time talking about their history (they were once in band together) and their shaggy future plans. Eventually, they are joined by a new employee in the shop, an awkward teenager named Evan (Zachary Burrell) who starts to become a part of this rarified club of oddballs who exist on the fringes of society.

Perhaps that overstates or misses the playwright’s intentions, but to me, KJ and Jasper come off as refugees from the cuckoo’s nest – two characters whose speech is so rife with inside jokes and internal references, whose existence is portrayed as so isolated from the mainstream as to suggest that they are damaged in ways that might not allow recovery. The fact that there is a good deal of profane and ribald humor in their interactions only reinforces this idea. It allows the audience to engage with the characters and feel comfortable enough to settle into their world for a little while.

It is a world that moves well away from the heightened reality of most plays, instead crafted at a slow and deliberate pace that embraces long pauses and near-silent passages that reveal much if we are paying attention. This is a kind of theatre rarely seen in Louisville – one that asks forebearance but yields rich rewards to a patient audience. You wouldn’t be far wrong to invoke Samuel Beckett as most have when describing The Aliens. Yet there is warmth here uncharacteristic of the famous Irish playwright.

Scott Anthony and Brandon Cox both bring a subtle balance of tensions to their characters; and Zachary Burrell is equally good, pushing past superficial if well-judged vocal and physical mannerisms to delve closer to the heart of the play.

With The Aliens, Theatre [502] continues to push the boundaries and deliver American plays to Louisville audiences that might otherwise pass us by.  

The Aliens

October 5 – 13

Theatre [502] in The Victor Jory Theater

Actors Theatre of Louisville

Third & Main Streets

Louisville, KY 40202