Well, color me surprised.
I went into the Roh’s Street Cafe expecting a staged reading of Annie Baker’s play, THE ALIENS, and instead was treated to a fully staged production by some of CCM Drama’s most talented students.
Director Landon Hawkins, a sophomore, has assembled quite a threesome for this intimate play. Bartley Booz and Andrew Iannacci are two strange fellas in their 30s named Jasper and KJ. We find them hanging out on the back porch of a hipster coffee shop. It’s not long before 17-year-old Evan, played by Carter LaCava, meets them and has his life utterly wrecked in the most magnificent way possible.
I’ve written about Booz before; he simply is magic on stage. His quiet confidence and the calculated nuance he brings to each performance is awe-inspiring. Contrasted with the also talented (but much more external) Iannaci, its easy to see why Hawkins chose these two as the older characters. LaCava, a freshman, is authentic, grounded, and sweet as he discovers life through this eccentric, dangerous duo.
Through the use of poetry, song, and just enough avant-garde language, Annie Baker creates deep relationships and characters that you care about despite the shorter-than-average run time. And these three actors are just marvelous.
Hawkins uses the space – a corner of the actual coffee shop – very well. He moves the actors around enough that the sometimes wordy dialogue doesn’t become static. There are some acoustic challenges; Booz, when especially understated, sometimes gets swallowed up in the cavernous church-space while Iannacci’s big voice echoes a little too much when he’s really pushing. But, those are minor quibbles. Very, very minor.
The staff of the cafe were accommodating to the needs of the actors, encouraging patrons to be quiet during the performance. I may drop off a can of WD-40 for their creaky front door, though. And whoever’s car alarm was going off for the first ten minutes of the play might want to rethink their choice of security systems.
I wasn’t in love from the very start. Act One takes it time to get the meat of the play. I wasn’t bored but I wasn’t overly invested. After intermission though as things began to chug along, I found myself rapt with attention. They got me; I teared up during Act Two. In fact, I was so moved that I couldn’t wait to get home so I could write this review. And that’s about the biggest compliment I can give.
You have one more chance to see this dynamite production; I can’t think of anything better to do tomorrow night than see THE ALIENS. Here’s a link to the FaceBook event for more information . . . its free!