Not much happens in Annie Baker’s The Aliens. And yet somehow everything changes.
The Aliens centres around three very human men – KJ, Jasper, and Evan – who feel like aliens standing on the outside of society looking in. For a short while, Edmonton audiences will look in on them at What It Is Productions’ presentation of The Aliens at the Roxy on Gateway October 12 – 22.
The setting is fittingly a back alley, behind a coffee shop – adjacent to gathering places, but distinctly not part of them. Here, Evan meets KJ and Jasper as they hang out behind the coffee shop where he works. KJ and Jasper have been friends and creative partners for a decade, and as Evan’s repeated attempts to get them to stop hanging out behind the coffee shop fail, they recognize him as one of their own despite the 13 year age difference. In The Aliens, the audience bears witness to the opening up of KJ and Jasper’s friendship to include Evan and impart upon him lessons they’ve learned in navigating through and around the world.
Michael Vetsch, who plays 17-year-old Evan alongside Chris W. Cook ( as KJ) and Evan Hall (as Jasper) says, “It’s just three people who happen to meet at one time and their lives intertwine. It’s interesting to see how, in such a short period of time, they gain that much dependence on each other.”
“For my character, Evan, he’s a 17-year-old kid, a bit of a loner and doesn’t have many friends. Initially, when he runs into KJ and Jasper, they’re a little apprehensive about him. It’s not quite friendship right off the bat, but when they get into it, they start to extend little hands of kindness to him and it’s out of the ordinary to him. Both of them are 30 years old and at this point in their life, they’ve skirted their way around the boundaries, being on the edge of society as well and they find the common ground of knowing what it’s like to be left out.”
However, as Evan is forming what is likely the first true friendship of his life with KJ and Jasper, the moment is bittersweet as he is at a junction in his life, deciding whether to leave the town he grew up in to go off to college. Michael says this duality of gaining and losing things is something he’s been exploring in the play, “Within such a short period of time, Evan gains these two friends, but as the play goes on, they start to distance themselves… For him, it’s a very pivotal point in his life. It’s a lot of learning what he can from these guys… He doesn’t have the confidence to know who he is. And through them, he kind of learns who he already was because they help him gain the confidence to discover who he is.”
One of the interesting aspects of The Aliens is the number of pauses or silences playwright Annie Baker has written into the script, instructing that between one-third and half of the play is to be silent. It feels a little like Waiting for Godot, in that these are the comfortable silences between people who recognize themselves as kindred spirits, however, these silences are where a lot of the action of the play takes place. Michael says, “Annie Baker has done a fantastic job of where the lines break off, or the characters trail off and other people jump in. It’s very easy to find what needs to fill the pauses. Even though there’s all this silence, the characters are always thinking, feeling and living through them so the rest of the script gives you so many ideas of what’s happening in those moments that it’s never a struggle to figure out what flows through them… When you’re around people you’re so comfortable with, you can just sit around and nothing really happens but the moment still feels full because you’re with people you care about.”
The Aliens also features original music and lyrics by Michael Chernus, Patch Darragh, and Eric Gann that we get to hear through KJ’s outbursts into song. While the KJ and Jasper have been working on the band’s name for years, the forerunner – The Aliens after a poem of the same name by Charles Bukowski – is what the play takes its name from. References to Bukowski come frequently in the play, bringing with them the idea of ‘the genius’ and preservation of oneself through art that Michael says the cast has discussed a lot. “It’s something KJ and Jasper find inspiring to them – the idea of originality or generating their own material… KJ is continually making up new songs, whether or not they’re the best songs, they’re always putting out new stuff. To them, if they generate their art and show it to a few people, they’re creating. I don’t think the rest of their lives swirl away and end.”
The Aliens by Annie Baker and produced by What It Is Productions runs at The Roxy on Gateway October 12 – 22. Tickets are $18 – $22 through Theatre Network’s box office. Previews are October 10 and 11 – tickets for these performances are $15. Tickets for the performance on October 17 are two-for-one.