A review of “The Aliens,” Annie Baker’s affecting tale of a straight-arrow barista and the two loitering misfits he falls in with. On stage at West of Lenin through July 24.
The awkward, contemplative and aching silences in the plays of the rising young author Annie Baker are as crucial to her enterprise as Harold Pinter’s were to his. And when her ellipses connect, they make what is eventually said by her millennial characters more important and revealing than you may expect.
So it is with “The Aliens,” now receiving its local premiere at West of Lenin from ReAct Theatre, under David Hsieh’s sensitive direction.
Like Baker’s later, Pulitzer Prize-winning script “The Flick,” staged recently here by New Century Theatre Company, “The Aliens” concentrates on a cluster of modern young misfits in New England.
by Annie Baker. Through July 24, ReAct Theatre at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St., Seattle; $15-$18 (800-838-3006 or reacttheatre.org).
KJ and Jasper are best buds and former bandmates who spend much of their time hanging out near the dumpsters behind a cafe in Vermont. Initially they seem aimless and not terribly bright. Evan is the anxious high-school student and cafe employee charged with the thankless task of telling them to stop loitering there.
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Gradually, hesitantly, straight-arrow Evan (Alan E. Garcia) discovers there is more to the scruffy, seemingly cocky Jasper (Curtis Gehlhausen) and the spacey, goofy KJ (Cooper Harris-Turner) than their idling suggests. And while their lives seem stalled, they do have something meaningful to offer Evan — and, if one patiently accepts the play’s languorous pacing, to us.
“The Aliens” (one of numerous potential names for an aborted rock band) fulfills its title with an examination of a quiet “otherness” and sense of unbelonging that seems epidemic these days. It is exacerbated here by a lover’s rejection, by substance abuse, mental illness and the adolescent struggle to be comfortable and confident in one’s skin.
Middle-class and college-bound but socially inept, Evan certainly doesn’t seek out KJ and Jasper as mentors. He stumbles upon them. And somehow the tutelage of these lost souls enriches him, and them.
Baker writes in brush strokes, slowly building layers of color on mere outlines. She’s at her best dramatically when jarring us with quick glints of emotion, like warmth or grief, or with telling details — an age, a song lyric, an abrupt note of tragedy in Act 2 that sheds new light on aspects of Act 1.
Slow to percolate, “The Aliens” can be exasperating in the way that the much longer but also astute “The Flick” can be. Much depends on the actors’ ability to also work in brush strokes, and fortunately Hsieh draws a particularly multifaceted, kinetic performance from Harris-Turner, whose mind you can see racing and careening even when his body is still.
Gehlhausen is also effective, as the more enigmatic of the two. His pose of sullen detachment gives way to spasms of anger, passionate literary reveries (he’s a great fan of the beat poet Charles Bukowski) and sincere concern.
Garcia is excessively stilted at times, and limited in the mannerisms (tight, hunched posture and downcast eyes) conveying his boyish insecurity. But he essentially captures Evan’s evolution, and has a lovely moment at the end, strumming on a bequeathed guitar and singing, incongruously and poignantly, an old Pete Seeger folk song about liberation: “If I Had a Hammer.”