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Monday, January 27, 2014

Theatre Blog - the ALIENS at Dobama Theatre

The playwright, Annie Baker, has created a fascinating play that reminds me of Woodstock genetically altered to exist in the back alley of a coffee shop. Characters that define two perceptions of life, from frenetic to chilled out. But from the first moment of the play, I can tell you this, the sound designer (Richard Ingraham) knocked this out of the park. In an opening ceremony that reminds me of the upcoming Sochi Olympics, the results are hysterical. And then the play sits there for a moment, and you get a clue to how the evening will progress. Not afraid to let silence tell a story of character, unresolved pain, and choices. Nathan Motta (Artistic Director/Director) of this production chooses wisely to understand the piece as a "real time" experiment. Motta has crafted a beautiful evening of theatre, letting the laughter come from a very simple and neurotic place, aided of course, by drugs of choice.

We meet KJ and Jasper. Or as I thought of them, Tom and Jerry tweaked out 24/7.  Nestled in the safety net behind a coffee shop, these two approach life differently, one jittery, and the other one, well, he would fit nicely in the back seat of Cheech and Chong's ride. KJ (equity actor Alexander V. Thompson) is a frickin scream. His physicality is priceless, and I kept on wondering how many calories he must burn per second for the energy to get his thoughts from this brain to his mouth. Watching this lovable train wreck with awe is Jasper (played beautifully intense by Matt O'Shea). He reminds me of a skinny panic attack, and that is a compliment. Jasper is a tortured artist as we all are. Writing poetry, songs, and hopeless expression about love loss.For the two, it's quite a love story of sorts. Two individuals who didn't quite turn out the way they might have hoped. Both share of love for the work of Charles Bukowski. No wonder, because in 1986 Time called Bukowski a "laureate of American lowlife". So I can see why an artist that can make poetic justice about how two individuals find solace behind a coffee house, and not in it.

Soon we meet Evan (Joseph Dunn) who brings a 17 year old perspective into the picture. Although he starts off bringing the heat to the two in a nervous ball of being assigned a duty that he really didn't want, which is to get rid of them. Dunn craftily handles and assimilates to the proceedings, much like the Borg. And to stand tall against these two on stage, is a major bonus. No weak links on the boards. Thus begins the interaction that provides sustaining energy to this triangle of innocence and misfortune. Through this triangle, you certainly learn that SHROOMS can be very entertaining. A whole other meaning to "High Tea" if you will.

The evening makes me wonder what happened to these guys in their lives. You get hints of their valleys throughout, but it makes me want to know more about them. Motta keeps the slow pace moving well which just carries you through the play faster then you think you are going.

The highlight of the music that is presented in the play is the Frog Men Song. A hilarious rendition. Think of the Everly Brothers on a three day bender on the back of a farm truck. It is so much to crack each other up, isn't it.
The fact that both gentlemen have great folk voices adds to the charm and the bewilderment to the tunes that materialize in the show.

Act Two offers a surprise which triggers some more deeply moving scenes and honestly within the characters. That against the very funny discussion of their first sexual experiences, and what honor that band camp brought to Evan. I think we can all take a few lessons from Evan on how to lean on a garbage to try to create coolness. That bit cracked me up.  Also, KJ made me want to look up truth tables.

The evening ends with loss. We can appreciate how Evan has grown from both of these back alley counselors. There is a way out of depression. You just have to pick it up and play.

I realize how the set works perfectly for this piece (fine work by Aaron Benson), aiding by the eerie lighting design (Marcus Dana). Together the pair bring realness to this ordinary life. The costumes (Tesia Benson) are dead on. My favorite being the horse shirt. I would imagine KJ has named them all at some point.

Dobama is known for presenting high quality, professional productions of the best new plays. Well, they are indeed.

January 24 - February 23

7:30pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2:30pm Sundays

Arrive 45 minutes before curtain and you’ll have something to enjoy!
Pre-show talks: 1/24, 1/25, 1/30, 2/2, 2/7, 2/8, 2/13, 2/16, 2/21, 2/22
Live Music from local singer/ songwriters: 1/26, 1/31, 2/1, 2/6, 2/9, 2/14, 2/15, 2/20, 2/23
*for this production, doors always open 45 minutes before curtain

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