Monday, July 04, 2016

Everyday folks are the focus of "The Aliens" - ReAct Theatre

Cast of The Aliens (David Hsieh)
The Aliens
ReAct Theatre
(at West of Lenin)
Through July 24, 2016

Now that Seattle theaters have produced three of Annie Baker’s plays (Seattle Rep: Circle Mirror Transformation, New Century Theatre Company: The Flick, and now ReAct Theatre: The Aliens), we have a solid experience set to her style. Most important in her plays is the storytelling importance of silence.

Silence on stage is particularly difficult. An audience sits waiting for “something,” and silence is often not considered “something.” So, an important item to bring to an Annie Baker play is patience and a sense of noticing. Of all three productions, here, The Aliens is most in need of noticing.

Must of what can be discovered in the play is done in silence; either silent communication or in an action of a character that reveals a lot of inner thought. The three men in The Aliens do a lot of onstage thinking or contemplating.

Two drop-out types, KJ (Cooper Harris-Turner) and Jasper (Curtis Gehlhausen) sit behind a restaurant, hanging out. 17 year-old Evan (Alan E. Garcia) starts a new job there and is supposed to chase them away from the employee area, but is too intimidated to accomplish that. Instead, he allows himself to be beguiled into letting them stay.

Over a few July days, the men impress him, tell him stories, encourage him and teach him how to smoke cigarettes. The teen grows in confidence and life skills, by the day.

The three actors embody the characters well. Harris-Turner has the most impish execution. Gehlhausen portrays a character with anger issues whose behavior might well keep him an outsider. Garcia plays naïve teen a bit too hard for much of the play, though he has an engaging presence.

Generally well directed by David Hsieh, there is no costumer, but a lot of different clothing for the two men. Unfortunately, virtually all the clothing looks very much too new and clean. These are grifter types who never realized any career, hang out all day singing songs to/with each other, and have no regular source of income. Part of their intimidating look, to Evan, should be their disreputable look. This production avoids that so insistently that it undercuts their “loser-ness.” Part of the education in the play is that even losers have much to teach.

A second act tragedy propels more of the learning for Evan, introducing having to cope with a heavy loss. But for some people, the subtleties, the pauses, the silences, will stack up to too little, too long. Since there are already distinct scene changes due to time-passing, the play could have been shortened to a long one-act and still had virtually the same impact.

It’s a good choice of play for this company and, for those who particularly like to experience more of one playwright’s work on stage, a welcome opportunity to see more of Annie Baker, whose other two plays had mixed but generally positive reviews. The Flick won multiple Gypsy Rose Lee Awards from the Seattle Theater Writers.

With a solid cast and a writer who has a good grasp of conveying a lot of information in “normal” conversation, those who like understatement will enjoy the heck out of this production. 

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