The Aliens transforms a minimalist set and stark lighting into the holding space of deeply profound human vulnerability. The play, running at the Wirtz Center as part of the Student Theater Project Series this weekend, is a must-see.
Written in 2010 by Annie Baker, The Aliens takes place on the back patio of a Vermont coffee shop. Its abrupt flow and loud silences pull us into the lives of two 30-year-old loiterers with more than enough dashed dreams, and 17-year-old coffee shop employee Evan, who learns, along with the audience, more than enough about some of the most vulnerable parts of adult life.
In Northwestern's production, the stunningly capable cast of three performers come together to teach us all hard truths about raw human emotion and connection. All this takes place in a pointedly sparse setting whose most notable feature is two old, beat up trash cans. They fill this world with a staggering amount of wisdom and listlessness and grief and even one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen performed live.
For two hours and fifteen minutes, we are plunged into a world that's raw, existentialist, and beautifully vulnerable. The design of the show complements these elements hauntingly. Scene breaks are almost total darkness, asymmetrically linked with warm music that is inevitably chopped off in the middle of a stanza by harsh lights, beating down on whatever uncomfortable authenticity we aren’t fully ready to look at yet.
The show does not shy away from any tense topics: be aware that there is discussion of drugs, alcohol, and death. The Aliens’ terse dialogue weaves an undercurrent of human connection through all the dangerous moments of discomfort. The performers can hold their emotional breath through long, elegantly tense silences and then release it in one terrifying moment of verbal vulnerability (and even, in some decadently strange moments, in song).
The Aliens is an emotional-tension-bound rollercoaster, a masterclass in staging raw human truths, and a blessing of all the painful beauty that comes from human vulnerability.
The Aliens runs November 19th at 7pm and November 20th at 2pm and 7pm in Wirtz 101. Admission is free.