Theater to Perform The Aliens
by Jim Amidon
February 24, 2015
Three young men waste away hours in a back alley littered with trash and broken dreams in Annie Baker’s vivid, award-winning play The Aliens, which will be performed at Wabash College Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. in the Experimental Theater.
Director Jessie Mills brings to life this deeply moving character study with the help of two veteran Wabash performers — senior Joe Mount and junior Donovan Whitney — and a relative newcomer in senior Ryan Horner. Baker’s difficult script brings out unexpected performances from all three.
Mount, who a year ago stunned audiences as Macbeth, plays the drifting and damaged KJ, who munches donuts from a bag while drinking laced tea that helps him forget who and where he is.
Horner, the talented distance runner, plays Jasper, who is a chain-smoking, guitar-playing, would-be novelist. Jasper, together with KJ, once formed a band that eventually became known as The Aliens — though the play’s title might well describe who these young men are in a society moving faster than they are.
Donovan Whitney, who has immense talent for boisterous physical comedy, shows a new side as the quiet and shy high schooler Evan looking for friendship from two young men struggling to find their place in the world.
“If an outsider were to walk in on our rehearsal process, one thing would be abundantly clear: these men share a deep respect for one another,” said Mills of her tight-knit ensemble. “We’ve only been working together for a few weeks, but it seems as though these three have spent a lifetime collaborating.”
The results of the collaboration are obvious. Tension hangs from the start of the play. Prolonged periods of silence are broken up by occasional riffs of dialogue, with Mount’s KJ slipping in and out of song. The scene is dark and dirty and the air is heavy with the smoke from a dozen clove cigarettes.
“This story is about three young men who are struggling to understand and appreciate who they are in relation to what the world expects of them,” Mills explained. “It explores many of the themes that we examine in our studies at Wabash – such as the rules and roles of contemporary friendship, masculinity, identity, and legacy. More than that, however, I believe this play is a deeply sensitive character study of three young men, who fear that the world has left them behind.”
The Aliens first appeared off-Broadway in 2010 and won the Obie Award for the Best New American Play.
While The Aliens is a relatively “small” play with just three actors and a single setting, Scene Designer Andrea Bear, Technical Director Cody Grady, and Lighting Designer Laura Glover have created a landscape that further builds the tension in the play and never quite lets the audience get comfortable. Mills credits their collaboration as key to the success of the show.
“Andrea, Laura and Cody have done a phenomenal job bringing this world to life. Andrea thrives in her dual role as scenic and costume designer — she developed a full aesthetic world before we even began rehearsals — and Laura’s lighting is stunning. In the world of hyperrealism, the success of a design comes down to the most subtle and nuanced changes, and both Andrea and Laura have impeccable artistic instincts.”
Calling the shots backstage is freshman Henry Swift, who is serving as Stage Manager for the first time. Assisting Mills as Assistant Directors are senior A.J. Akinribade and junior Tucker Mark. Mills said she tasked Akinribade to focus on the silent moments of the show — drawing on his performance in last year’s silent play Stage Lights — while Mark was asked to ensure realism and authenticity. “This production grew substantially because of their artistic contributions,” Mills said.
The Aliens at Wabash College
Wednesday, February 25 through Saturday, February 28 at 8:00 p.m. in the Experimental Theater in the Wabash College Fine Arts Center. Tickets are extremely limited and can be reserved through the Box Office (765-361-6411). Starring Joe Mount as KJ, Ryan Horner as Jasper, and Donovan Whitney as Evan. The production team includes Director Jessie Mills, Assistant Directors A.J. Akinribade and Tucker Mark, Stage Manager Henry Swift, Scenic and Costume Designer Andrea Bear, Lighting Designer Laura Glover, Technical Director Cody Grady, and Sound Designer Taylor Miller.
NOTE: Adult themes and language; The Aliens is appropriate for students age 16 and older. Smoke will be present in the theater during performances.