Chicago Theater Review: THE ALIENS (A Red Orchid Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 22, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

SLOW, SAD AND STRANGE

Sooner or later (preferably the former), we expect a play to pay off – to deliver a “gotcha” revelation that makes sudden or accumulated sense out of what seemed to be aimless exposition. A less than engrossing Chicago premiere at A Red Orchid Theatre, Annie Baker’s slow-paced, torpidly talky and seemingly uneventful drama about a kid and two slackers can’t pull this off. It doesn’t help that one character is 17 and inarticulately young (his reaction to everything new – and it’s all new to this “blank slate” – is “cool”). The other two are either paralyzed by boredom or prefer to talk through the songs they make.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of The Aliens at A Red Orchid Theatre in ChicagoThe rather constricting setting for The Aliens is the back lot of a Vermont coffee shop with a dumpster and a picnic table for employees only. It’s the chosen neutral ground for old friends Jasper (Steve Haggard) and K.J. (Brad Akin, recalling Jack Black in The School for Rock), who are joined by and start to influence an unfledged barista kid named Evan (Michael Finley). As the chums (one a high school, the other a college dropout) desultorily chat, we learn on this hot July afternoon that they’ve turned loitering into an art akin to a Buddhist tea ceremony.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of The Aliens at A Red Orchid Theatre in ChicagoJoined by their wide-eyed, open-hearted and sweetly shy acolyte Evan, they discuss Jasper’s bad breakup with his girlfriend Andrea, the many titles for the bad bands they played in (“The Aliens” being one), Jasper’s unfinished novel (which sounds like great “beat fiction”), how to make it or not in the so-called real world, the town’s Fourth of July fireworks, aborted or conflicted sex with underappreciated females, and the code of “frog men” in a world of non-amphibians. It’s a lot more “tell” than “show.”

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of The Aliens at A Red Orchid Theatre in ChicagoEvan, about to attend band camp for Jewish kids, is all ears as this not so brave new world opens up to him. Over casual back door encounters he finds himself particularly drawn to Jasper’s music and prose, only slowly catching onto the medicated K.J.’s mood swings and obsessive behavior.

Seeing this show is a lot like watching paint dry: You find yourself hitting an imaginary “Fast Forward” button over and over. Only at the end do you sort of grasp what a difference these supposedly dead-end drifters have made on embryonic Evan. The Aliens becomes a “coming of age” drama for this lonely lad who may now find a mission or at least an escape. But it’s not a pay-off, just an ending.

Director Shade Murray, who specializes in plays about disaffected oddballs and perplexed adolescents, certainly captures the dead-end desperation of these alienated and marginalized young men (a la Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia). What he can’t supply is what the playwright didn’t: A reason to care. It’s way too easy to see who and what these guys are. But asking us to guess at what they were or still might be is an act of faith the play shouldn’t ask an enervated audience. It’s just too little for two hours.

[Editor’s Note: Click here for Stage and Cinema’s review of The Aliens in San Francisco.]

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Aliens
A Red Orchid Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on March 3, 2013 EXTENDED to March 16, 2013
for tickets call 312-943-8722 or visit http://www.ARedOrchidtheatre.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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