The Aliens is a play about nothing, but that doesn’t mean nothing happens. Playwright Annie Baker has written something that is quite literally about stagnation – about a third of this play is supposed to be silence.
“There is nothing more satisfying than seeing this play executed hyper-realistically by an ensemble is unafraid to bask in the glory of silence,” Milo Pfeffer said in a review of the Firehouse Theatre production running now through May 16th.
That silence, however is not awkward.
“I don’t call it an awkward silence, unless the character senses that its awkward and doesn’t know what to do,” said Gary Hopper, Director of the Aliens. “But as in life, we find that there are moments where we don’t talk, we ruminate, we revalue just what has happened and make a decision about what we are doing next.”
Hopper said that he put his focus on showing growth in the silence.
“My directorial emphasis is that in that moment something is still happening… so in the silence, if you look at one of the characters you’ll see something happening in his or her eyes,” he said explaining why Firehouses’ intimate setting was the perfect venue for the production.
“You’ll be able to see that, see all those little quiet physical reactions.”
Hopper, whose work skews more toward traditional productions, was drawn toward the play by the smaller cast and the single set. The small set can’t be more than 100 square feet.
“For [Baker], that’s on purpose,” Hopper said. “It’s really just the back lot behind a coffee shop and its closed off. We closed it off to kind of give it a cul-de-sac [feel].”
To get there the characters climb the fence surrounding the lot because the store’s owners clearly don’t want them there. Hopper said the closed off nature of the set and the setting reflects the characters’ inner states.
“Each character has arrived emotionally and maybe even spiritually at a cul-de-sac in their lives,” said Hopper. “And we’re interested in seeing how do they move on, and if they can.”
Those characters are KJ and Jasper, two adrift misfit thirty-somethings, and Evan, a 17-year-old awkward high schooler that KJ and Jasper take under their wing.
“To most of the world, KJ and Jasper would seem like losers,” said Denver Crawford, who plays Evan. “But to a kid like [Evan] who hasn’t had friends most of his life, who has been an outcast just like KJ and Jasper are, being able to connect with them and feeling like he is valid in their eyes and hearing what they have to say makes him admire them that much more. They are the first people who have truly listened to him all his life.”
Crawford had a deep connection with Evan. Hopper believes that these roles are deep and meaty for the actors playing them, allowing them to grow.
“These are great roles for actors, so let me find the actors that can really bring these roles to life,” said Hopper. “And I think I’ve done that.”
The play is set in the fictional town of Shirley, VT, but Hopper believes the play could translate to any town in America.
“She’s such a wonderful writer, she uses the locale but she’s really talking about any place,” Hopper said. “It kind of transcends boundaries, and you can say to yourself ‘Wow this could happen behind the 7-11 in Richmond, VA, or a Starbucks in WI.’ it transcends.”
That universality allows the play’s musings on friendships and tragedy to come through.
“It’s a quiet, strange, slightly weird work,” said Hopper. “[Baker], to me is ignoring the Aristotle way of thinking.”
Hopper said that Baker’s work ignores strong themes, central protagonists and antagonists and struggle to instead create a still environment.
“I see the play as kind of a gentle meandering stream that is already there when you get in the play,” Hopper said. “You go with the flow, it ripples and turns but the stream keeps going till the end. But in those ripples, life happens.”
The Aliens runs weekend performances through May 16. Tickets can be purchased here.