Rosemary Laughlin/review | Station's 'Aliens' entirely down to earth

Rosemary Laughlin/review | Station's 'Aliens' entirely down to earth

By ROSEMARY LAUGHLIN

Do not let the title of the Station Theatre's new play — "Aliens — suggest it to be about outer-space arrivals. It's about 30-year-old American males who never "got on" with their dreams or possibilities beyond working in a small-town Vermont coffee shop.

The title turns out to be one of 50 name considerations for their band that never became a reality.

They talk about this with a high school boy who joins them in the back alley where they now just hang out to smoke or drink hallucinogenic mushroom tea. The boy Evan is a new employee at the cafe that uses the alley. His job is to put the garbage bags into the bin. He lingers, fascinated by their recounted worldly experiences, especially with women.

The interactions of the three take place around the Fourth of July, before and after the boy leaves briefly to be an assistant counselor at a music camp for Jewish children. Jasper, a chain smoker, turns out to be a high school dropout who nevertheless is composing a novel; he is a fan of the Beat poet Charles Bukowski, whose language is direct and often vulgar. KJ attended college as a math and philosophy major to the point where he was considering a thesis in logic; some of his musings reflect geometry, equations and truth tables.

The three actors are superb. Director Jace Jamison has ensured that the three characters are richly distinctive. Played by Jake Fava, Jasper is laid back, even when he is reading an annoyingly overwritten sex scene from his novel. His constant, pervasive, on-stage smoking conveys what he thinks to be cool style.

Tommy Howie as KJ is warm and expansive — an extrovert to the max. His facial expressions and body language deserve the term "shenanigans"; they reflect the delight of an actor who is truly enjoying and controlling his role.

Robert Bradley enters as Evan the high schooler. He seems hesitant and shy. Bradley adds sweetness, deference and curiosity. He reminds me of early Hugh Grant and becomes just as winning. His character and experience develop in his stint at music camp; he becomes more critical, outgoing and willing to try new things.

Annie Baker won an Obie for her play in 2010. One asks why. Only three characters interact, but actors like Fava, Howie and Bradley make them memorable. Just as important are the themes, both directly presented and symbolically suggested, the primary theme being that the basic connection humans feel is love, not violence, bullying, dominance or power. KJ says directly to Evan, "I love you" in a joking way but with serious meaning. Evan pauses, thinks and replies, "I love you, too." Moments later Evan proves it by staying with KJ in what becomes a moment of dire need.

Related to that love is the importance of encouraging others to be their best. One may lack achievement or even be a total failure but can still infuse others with hope.

Both themes are poignantly highlighted by the concluding singing of "If I Had a Hammer" by Evan accompanied by Jasper's guitar, which KJ has given him. Its refrain extols "the love between the brothers and the sisters all over this land."

The Fourth of July time with fireworks, sparklers and explosions suggests American reflections, and indeed there are quite a few. Ethnic mixes, even in fractions, are mentioned: half Jewish, one-sixteenth Cherokee, part black. The various dysfunctions that lead to drug abuse and alcohol show their ugly but realistic heads; bipolarity, ADHD, pleasure-seeking addictions, and others are named, litany-like, by KJ. The alley's garbage cans are where they need to go.

Set designer Emma St. John deserves praise for a back alley that seems pulled in whole piece. Its mason block walls are stained with rain and connect with a brick wall. A drain pipe and utility meter are on it. Props person Vick Vinegar brings in discarded furniture, broken cooling equipment, pallets and general junk to join the trash bins.

Lighting and sound designers Brian Hagy and Noah Scott Larson create a memorable July 4 ambience.

Not all may appreciate the realistic f-bombed vocabulary or the smoking in this play. But as the program notes tell us, the time is "about a week ago, to right now." If you care to look, this is it — the grim and the hopeful. As Shakespeare put it, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."

Rosemary Laughlin is a writer and retired English teacher from University Laboratory High School.

If you go

What: "The Aliens" by Annie Baker.

Where: Station Theatre, 223 Broadway Ave., U.

When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and July 18 through July 21; matinee at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: Regular admission $15, $10 for students and seniors.

Reservations: Call 217-384-4000 or visit stationtheatre.com.

 

Topics (1):Theater