Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Aliens: A Gem of a Play by One Gem of a Playwright

If you saw and enjoyed Circle Mirror Transformation earlier this year, you know that the theater world has been granted the gift of an exceptional writer in Annie Baker, and that Baker herself is, likewise, well served by director Sam Gold.

The pair have teamed up to give us Baker's latest play, The Aliens, now at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. And once again, we are privileged with a gem of a play by a gem of a playwright.

Granted, the plot could fit into a thimble, and the play, as was true of Circle Mirror Transformation, reveals itself in short scenes and blackouts. But these do serve the purpose of providing a frame for a trio of misfits--two slackers and a dork, to use some stereotypic shorthand--who come totally and believably to life through their interactions with one another as they hang out in back of a coffee house (great set design, by the way, done by Andrew Lieberman).

Baker has an ear for authentic dialog that is amazing. One can imagine her perpetually eavesdropping on conversations and writing down every word and nuance, before turning them into dialog for her plays. She also cares enough about her characters to trust them to find the words to express themselves. Indeed, one word--in this case, the word "ladder"--can be full of meaning, as it reveals much about one of the characters. Even their hesitations are significant--not Pinteresque pauses, but human moments of awkwardness that arise as they do in life.

The cast of three--Michael Chernus, Dane DeHaan, and Erin Gann--create engagingly authentic characters, under Gold's gentle and supportive direction. As an added bonus, the play is punctuated with several charmingly goofy songs--reminiscent of something by the group They Might Be Giants--that were penned by Chernus, Gann, and actor Patch Darragh, now starring as "Tom" in The Glass Menagerie.

If you want theater that is full of bombast, smoke, and mirrors, then you might prefer something like the current production of Enron. If, however, you long for theater that expresses a real love of language, and that offers up well-drawn characters that were created with compassion and affection, then by all means make it a point to see The Aliens.

And while you are at it, do keep an eye on Ms. Baker as she continues to grow as a playwright. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

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