Reviewed by James Karas
Annie Baker’s The Aliens is an absurd play that presents three “aliens” who have contradictory traits, are perhaps geniuses who speak in virtually illiterate sentences and have difficulty forming relationships with people. When you see the play you may come to these conclusions or form any number of other views as you listen to the meandering dialogues and try follow the plot. Plot? There is very little of it and it does not develop in logical sequence and you may consider it as a play in which nothing happens. That’s not true, of course.
What do you see? The play is set on the rundown patio behind a restaurant. There is picnic table, a couple of plastic chairs and garbage bins. KJ (William Greenblatt), a bearded young man and Jasper (Noah Reid), another young man, may well be trespassing on the patio which is not intended for the public.
Will Greenblatt, Maxwell Haynes, Noah Reid photo by Tim LeyesThere are lengthy pauses between the short sentences of their conversation as if they are searching for the right words to express themselves. But when the reply consists of a single word you realize that deep thinking is not the reason for the delay. They do not belong to “our” world.
There are clues about who these people are. KJ sings that he is a Martian masterpiece from another dimension and a three-dimensional superstar. Like Jasper and Evan (Maxwell Haynes), a seventeen-year old youngster who works in the restaurant, he does not seem to have developed a meaningful relationship with anyone.
Evan is pathetic and his favourite or most frequently used word is “cool.” He meets a girl at a camp and he may develop a relationship with her but that, like everything else in the play, is opaque.
Among the almost incessant pauses which take a good part of the play, there are some flashes of humour and dramatic moments of raised emotions but they are the exception. At times I felt I was watching Waiting for Godot in reverse. Instead of Vladimir and Estragon waiting for someone to arrive, it was the audience waiting for something to happen.
Will Greenblatt, Maxwell Haynes, Noah Reid photo by Tim Leyes
Many things do happen but they are in the nuances of the characters, the events that they relate, the subtext and in the very pauses and awkward utterances that make up the play.
Mitchell Cushman directs this subtle, slow play that demands rapt attention and is not always easy to follow. In the end it is intriguing and will leave you scratching your head trying to figure out the aliens of the title. Try to unravel the following questions: who, how, what and why referring to the people in the play and have a look in the mirror while doing it.
The Aliens by Annie Baker continues until October 8, 2017 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4. www.coalminetheatre.com