“The Aliens” among us: Theatre ’s latest production premieres today
By Chris Ritter @CT_Smash
The third and final production of Theatre ’s 2012 season, Louisville’s newly crowned “Best Theatre Troupe” is presenting a low strung and slightly strung-out narrative of three hapless outsiders and/or would-be existential geniuses striving for a reason to just do anything at all.
Penned by acclaimed playwright Annie Baker and described by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times as, “at times [resembling] a Beckett play recast as a [Duplass brothers] mumble-core movie,” director Mike Brooks’ production of “The Aliens” seeks to illuminate the nuances of humanity through the truncated, meandering and yet inherently humorous awkwardness of everyday conversation.
Brooks said that a large part of the charm (and challenge) of “The Aliens” was in, “learning about how people interact when you let them slow down.” Also one of ’s three Artistic Directors (alongside Amy Attaway, who helmed the season-opener “Futura” and Gil Reyes, who tackled “Gruesome Playground injuries”), he added, “it’s the most naturalistic play I’ve ever worked on.”
“The Aliens” stars Theatre  alums Brandon Cox (last year’s heavy metal drama “Broadsword”) and Zachary Burrell (’s first ever production, “The Debate Over Courtney O’Connell of Columbus, Nebraska” alongside newcomer Scott Anthony.
Characters KJ and Jasper (Cox and Anthony) hangout in the employee-only backyard of a coffee shop, bobbing back and forth between chatter and general malaise. The two are eventually joined by the younger Evan (Burrell), who in his capacity as an actual employee of the coffee shop in question, becomes something of an adopted little brother.
“They’re outcasts, with very little frame of reference on social interaction,” said Anthony.
The rhythm and pace of “The Aliens” might just be the polar opposite of the snide and zippy Aaron Sorkin-inspired dialogue in vogue as of late. And now, with five weeks of rehearsal behind them, the cast and crew asserted that the material’s structure (or lack there of) dictated a very non-traditional approach to its crafting.
“There are a lot of silences where awkward silences would be in real life,” said Burrell.
“It’s awkward,” said Cox, laughing. “Rehearsing sometimes felt like someone forgot a line.” And noted, at least at first, that it was a significant struggle to, “silence that actory stuff in your head.”
Brooks said that the persistence of pauses in between instances of oft-unaware introspection, broken half-sentences with characters talking over each other and even, “moments of furious activity,” are ultimately what provides the audience with, “the opportunity to digest what they’ve seen.”
“There’s a rhythm and musicality to it… not this layer of theatricality [between actors and audience]” said Brooks. “[“The Aliens”] sways like the ocean. You have to be willing to get in the Ocean.”
“[It] feels like it was grown from the roots,” added Cox.
Speaking specifically to the directorial challenges involved, Brooks admitted that he regularly found himself having to fight his instincts. “Being willing to just sit with one another… I’ve had to find some Zen in me, “ he said. “But I’m still a fussy note-taker.”
Professing to an affinity towards material, “with sharp corners,” Brooks most succinctly described his admiration for Baker’s play in a recent interview with The Paper:
I love theater that I think functions kind of anthropologically… I love to think about us as these evolving creatures. And I think this play speaks really deeply to us trying to cope with a world that we were never built to understand and function in. Things have changed so quickly in our expectations of ourselves and others. And our relationships have changed so much, so quickly, that it’s surprising to me when we don’t feel alienated from each other, when we can make connection. And this is what this show, ultimately, is about. (see: “Theatre ”)
With its finger directly on the pulse of post-financial crisis, post-collegiate, under-employed and cast-adrift young America, circa right here, right now, “The Aliens” appears poised to challenge, intrigue and entertain; its characters’ do-nothing antics obscuring unrelenting humanity. Oh, and yes, there are pyrotechnics as well.
But it might just be Brandon Cox who was able to pinpoint what is at once the material’s most palpable observation and enduring charm:
“People are just weird.”
“The Aliens” premieres Friday, October 5 at 8 p.m. in the Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Additional shows Saturday and Monday, through October 13.