The characters in Theatre Exile’s Fringe Festival production of Annie Baker’s THE ALIENS are not from outer space; they’re spaced out. These outsiders come from an inner place of mind-numbing inertia and depression. They’re lonely misfits whose silence conveys the isolation and emptiness of their lives. It’s a silence that weighs heavy on our hearts, as we watch them while away their time, with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and little to say.
When they do speak, it’s in monosyllabic mumbles, or in a violent rage about an ex-girlfriend, or a musical rave about calculus. The manic outbursts that sporadically break their long periods of wordlessness have less to do with communicating than with exorcising the pent-up anger and confused obsessions of their tortured minds. Lost in their own pain, they rarely focus or make eye contact; and yet, they support, encourage, and relate to each other in muted camaraderie.
The long silences are at first funny, as the two thirty-something ex-band members, Jasper and KJ, loll in the altered states of their self-medicating escapism, in the smelly trash-filled patio of a small-town coffee house. When the stoners invite Evan, the timid high-school student who works there, into their lonesome, lethargic world, we slowly come to understand the depths and causes of their alienation.
The cast of three is superb in these extremely challenging roles, which demand as much expression in what’s not said as in what is. Jeb Kreager as Jasper and Sam Henderson as KJ bring an unnerving credibility and profound compassion to their hapless characters. Aubie Merrylees, as the painfully shy Evan, skillfully completes the ensemble of outcasts. His poignant portrayal of troubled youth quietly confirms his status as a rising star on the Philadelphia theater scene.
Matt Pfeiffer’s direction is in perfect harmony with Annie Baker’s writing; it is subtle, sensitive, and sympathetic. They don’t mock these rebels without a cause, they break our hearts with the unrealized potential of their tragic, wasted lives.
by Annie Baker
Directed by Matt Pfeiffer
September 1-18, 2011
1340 S. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147