Entertainment » Theatre

The Aliens

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 9, 2010
Jacob Brandt, Alex Pollock, and Nael Nacer star in The Aliens, continuing through Nov. 20 at the BCA
Jacob Brandt, Alex Pollock, and Nael Nacer star in The Aliens, continuing through Nov. 20 at the BCA  (Source:www.companyone.org)

Annie Baker's The Aliens is one of the three plays in the Shirley, Vt. Plays Festival being produced by several companies this month. Company One's production of The Aliens is a stellar feat.

The play only has three characters, but between them they embrace a wide range of human possibilities--all while remaining sympathetic everymen. KJ (Alex Pollock) seems dazed, until it becomes clear that he's beset by debilitating OCD. KJ, who shows up in every scene dressed in a different tattered, spattered, or tie-dyed T-shirt, is on medication both prescribed and recreational; that paper coffee cup in his hand is full of hot tea laced with psilocybin mushrooms. When he's not staring into space with a stoned grin, KJ is making up odd little songs, some of them about geometry or propositional calculus--imagine Jonathan Richman with an advanced degree in mathematics.

KJ likes to hang out in back of a local restaurant with his pal Jasper (Nael Nacer), who tends toward literature rather than equations. Jasper is something of a rambler, a self-described "street urchin" who is writing a novel that will, no doubt, be hailed one day as a slice of authentic Americana. His heroes are Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller, but one can't help wondering whether his style might not be closer to Breece D'J Pancake or, perhaps, Frederick Exley. Someone named Andrea has just exited Jasper's life, and he's in a bit of a lather about it; his moody dwelling on the agony of having been dumped contrasts neatly with KJ's perpetually sunny outlook.

The two befriend a shy 17-year-old busboy named Evan (Jacob Brandt), whose befuddlement and lack of confidence are endearing. Evan instantly looks up to Jasper, who projects a low-key machismo; a passing of the torch seems likely here, and indeed when Evan takes up Jasper's guitar near the play's end to sing "If I Had A Hammer," it's a lovely and moving moment. The song itself is in keeping with a vision of America's small-town, but big-hearted, roots: a theme underscored by the play's Fourth of July setting.

If America has a native virtue, it's an unquenchable optimism blended with a defiant individualism. That seems to be the major theme here, and the three characters--each of whom is wonderfully realized by the actors, who, under Shawn Lacount's unhurried direction, are given the time and space they need to create and plumb their characters' distinct personalities. The result is a production that exerts a powerful spell.

Aaron Mack's sublime sound design works on a subliminal level to re-create the sonic palettes of a summer night or a long afternoon in a small town. Benjamin Williams creates atmospheric lighting to match each scene's tenor. But aside from the performances, the crown jewel for this production has to be Cristina Todesco's set design, which shows just enough of the restaurant's back porch area to be serviceable to the play's needs--but shows it in such detail that you'd swear you'd been transported to Shirley, Vt., itself.

The Aliens continues through November 20 at the Boston Center for the Arts, located at 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Tickets cost $35 for Thursdays, Sundays, and Saturday matinees; Wild Wednesdays cost $18. $38 general admission for Fridays and Saturdays. Students pay $15 for all shows (valid ID required), and seniors pay $30. A Marathon Pass for all three Shirley, Vt. plays costs $120. Tickets may be obtained online at www.BostonTheatreScene.com or via phone at 617-933-8600. Tickets are also available at the BCA box office or at the Boston University Theatre Box Office, located at 264 Huntington Ave.

Performance schedule: Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00; Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 4:00.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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