Jon Norman Schneider in Recent Alien Abductions. Photo by Bill Brymer.
Recent Alien Abductions
By Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas
Directed by Les Waters
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
Every year, the Humana Festival delivers compelling, original work. Some plays have the spark of something great in them and others are practically incandescent, ready for a long life after their debut at the Festival. Recent Alien Abductions by Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas decidedly falls into the latter category, and I would even venture so far as to say that if you see one play at Humana this year, it should be this one.
The play begins in darkness, and in that darkness, with an appropriate and almost wraith-like quality, Álvaro (Jon Norman Schneider) appears. “It’s time to talk about the 25th episode of ‘The X-Files,’” he says, and between the confidence of those scripted words and Schneider’s exact enunciation, I somehow already knew that I was in for something special. What follows is an impressive and sprawling monologue detailing an obsession with the episode, specifically an airing of an alternative version of the episode that no one else remembers or has record of. The monologue is also deftly sprinkled with precise and necessary information about Álvaro’s family and upbringing. We also hear a little about his ardent Puerto Rican nationalism.
All of this perhaps would have served for an entrancing enough plot and mystery. If that’s what the play had been about, there is no doubt in my mind that I still would have been satisfied by Cortiñas’ skill in telling that story. However, this was not in the cards. Instead, the play focuses on Álvaro’s family and a close friend after he meets tragedy. That’s the most you’ll get out of me in terms of spoilers, but trust me. It all works beautifully. This play enjoys subverting your expectations, and I would hate to rob anyone of that experience.
What I do feel comfortable saying, however, is that what does happen on that stage is powerful stuff. Each actor delivers their art in a way that I have to believe made Cortiñas and Director Les Waters proud. It is Bobby Plasencia – the actor playing Álvaro’s brother, Néstor – who delivers the most nuanced performance. As a performer, it is difficult to be vulnerable enough to play a man with such unforgivable tendencies while still giving equal time to helping the audience understand his fears. Plasencia pulls it off with an ease that belies the effort. Full disclosure: there is a long scene between Néstor and Patria (Ronete Levinson) that is executed perfectly but depicts intense physical violence. I believe it’s worth mentioning here as something that is both impressive about their performances and as a warning for those audience members who might be triggered by watching it. I’ll also take a moment to give a shout-out to the fine work of Fight Director Ryan Bourque, Scenic Designer Dane Laffrey and Mark Walston and Carrie Mossman – properties director and master respectively. They all do fine work throughout, but it comes to a head spectacularly in this scene. Their work is to be commended.
In the final sequence of the play, we see the return of Álvaro, who gives another impressive monologue that plays like listening to a radio drama. Néstor and his and Álvaro’s mother, Olga (Mia Katigbak), return in unexpected form to help with the telling of this portion of the narrative. Katigbak truly shines here, showing off some muscles that she didn’t have the opportunity to before as Néstor and Álvaro’s invalid mother.
As a writer with some nerdy interests and Latino heritage, this play struck close to home. It resonated deeply within me, in a part of me that I didn’t know existed and in a way that I did not expect. Having said that, I also fervently believe that it’s a play that will do the same for all audience members, whatever their background, ethnicity or nationality. This is what happens when we foster diversity in creative pursuits and cultivate those talents: We create work that is both richer and even more accessible. It is exactly the kind of work that Actors Theatre and other theaters across the country should be producing. By giving the spotlight to cultural identities that are not our own, we unearth those elements that bind humanity together.
Recent Alien Abductions
March 17 – April 9, 2017
Part of the 41st Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.