Full “Circle” with Annie Baker’s THE ALIENS

We started the season with Annie Baker’s first play, Body Awareness, and enjoyed fielding wonderful reactions from audiences throughout the run. Our big brother neighbors over at Studio Theatre are returning to Annie Baker as well this season, as they scored a big hit two years ago with Annie’s Circle, Mirror, Transformation. Now comes the third in “The Shirley Plays,” Baker’s trilogy set in the fictional town of Shirley, Vermont.

Scot McKenzie and Brian Miskell in "The Aliens" - photo by Scott Suchman

Scot McKenzie and Brian Miskell in “The Aliens” – photo by Scott Suchman

What’d we think of it, this third most intimate, and provocatively audacious of the triad? I gave the actors and assistant director — wonderful artists all, fiercely dedicated to the shared playwright-director vision of the play — a bit of a hard time in our talk-back last night for some of the willfully lethargic languors of Act I — a full two minutes here or there (and certainly at the top of the show) before a single thing happens, let alone a line gets uttered. Of course something is happening, our actors assured us, and many things are being thought, and they’re also being read, by a clairvoyant director who was able to decipher and mold and guide the active thought patterns of the actors throughout the show. I didn’t buy into a lot of it early on. I was more of the “pshaw” and “show me” school and got bored and frustrated, even while noting the precision with which the play was written, shaped, designed, acted. There was much to appreciate, while one waited for something to happen. And waited. And waited.

And then guess what? It did. Shit happened. Subtle stuff, as had been happening all along, and the playwright began to reward us in spades. Patience patience. That’s all that was required. I didn’t have enough of it early on. But I too was satisfied — rewarded, moved, and impressed by night’s end. That’s Annie Baker; the girl knows how to close a show. If she hadn’t have come up with the big laughs at the end of BODY AWARENESS, we wouldn’t have had the great experience with the show that we had. She ended comically, winningly, with a real sense of achievement, in that, her first play, and with this, the third. Something tiny and yet momentous gets achieved.

Let’s hear what y’all thought!

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24 responses to “Full “Circle” with Annie Baker’s THE ALIENS

  1. In The Aliens, as in life, there were no two theater experiences that were the same, thanks to the thrust formation of the stage. This aspect was only complimentary to the honest and provocative conversational flow of the entire work. Baker had a very clear idea and goal for this work, and it was designed in such a way that the audience must go along for the ride—willingly or not. The audience is left with only what they can see, and with only enough on stage to focus their attention on the unfolding moment. This play adopts a method of “showing” rather than “telling” as the work Body Awareness did with its rich and layered dialogue.
    The opening scene immediately alerted and engaged the audience with Baker’s singular intent of exhibiting humanity—the subtleties of communication, personality, and relationships that are revealed through language and silence. The two characters KJ and JK sitting in comfortable silence of friendship before starting up a conversation that stops and starts without a gentle arc of introduction, background and summary or conclusion. With precision that can only be achieved by having an ensemble that buys into Baker’s vision wholeheartedly and with full dedication, the cast was able to show a variety of linguistic and interpersonal happenings that are generally left to the realm of linguists and social scientists to notice and eke out with such precision and detail. (Actually this would be a fantastic object of study for an Erving Goffman enthusiast).
    This includes such qualities and instances as the many different types of silences, from comfortable silences, awkward silences to silences bursting with meaning. Further, the looks and gestures that can say more than words, or the body language that can contradict one’s words, or add additional meaning to them. This is to say nothing of the way that Baker recreates the stops and starts, the multitude of little self-edits and post-comment references that occur in everyday conversations, and includes the comments made in another’s presence but that are truly for one’s self. In addition to this, the play had moments in which there was a narrow focus on mundane actions that would in life, or even in other plays, not be worth much notice, but that, when brought to such a focal point, became another point of familiarity between the characters and the audience member—and it was amusing, even funny. An example of this was when KJ squeezed the tea out of his tea bag as he removed it from the cup of tea. The mental state of the characters, their history and their humanity was revealed in their micro-expressions, by the confluence of their words, movements and silences in relation to the words, movements and silences of the other characters. Basically, Baker has undertaken a complex weaving of the language of context and embedded footing for each of the characters—and this is ambitious and cannot have been anything but intentional.
    I believe it is this zeal with which the cast, crew and directors bought in to Baker’s vision that made this play a success in my opinion and experience. I believe it was this one element that I missed in Conference of the Birds. And while I understand that it is unrealistic to expect to find a cast of actors that are all dedicated to the religion of Sufism, I think that I did feel a disconnect between the players and the deeply spiritual project they were undertaking. There was no such disconnect between the players in Aliens and Baker’s vision.

    • First, I would just like to commend your unique insight and creative language used in this post. I could not agree more with your comments and I think that you have really highlighted one of the main aspects of the play that might have been overlooked by individuals that were unable to hear the opinions of the actors in the talk-back; The idea of buying into Baker’s vision with full dedication.

      Even though I spent the majority of the play confused by the awkward silences, I always felt connected with the actors and I think that is exactly how Baker wanted the play to be produced. Without the repetition of the word ‘ladder’ and the lengthy scenes that needed no words, there would have been no motivation to even showcase the play. I also believe the actor/audience connection was more exceptional than others because these actors throughly enjoyed what they were doing. It is one thing to stand on stage and play a character, but it is another to stand on stage and love the character you represent.

  2. Annie Baker’s “The Aliens” was quite the departure from what we have seen lately; instead of focusing on the artist and music, this play was mostly silent. I was instantly caught of guard when the play opened with a silent scene. At first, I wondered if the characters would ever speak, but, thankfully, they did. Nonetheless, this play made me continuously feel a certain level of discomfort. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to laugh during the silence, focus on the guys’ actions, or just let my mind wander. Ultimately, I found that I focused on the meaning behind the silence, questioning why Baker wrote a play like this.

    By the end, I determined that Baker was trying to portray a very realistic scene; two friends chatting outside a coffeehouse where they didn’t belong, smoking and drinking. I believe Baker wanted to show the intricacies of human interaction. As was discussed in the talk-back, people don’t regularly stand perfectly still and rattle off coherent and well-thought-out sentences, but rather, people move around and struggle to find the right words for what they want to say. I appreciated the realness of the performance. I felt like I connected with what was going on because I knew people who seemed to fit the roles of Jasper and KJ and probably took part in interactions just like theirs.

    The most striking moment of this play, other than the initial silence, was the scene where KJ says the word “ladder” over 100 times. I found it incredibly frustrating, somewhat confusing, and at the same time a captivating scene. It felt like the climax of the play when it finally came together that KJ was coping with Jasper’s death. Oddly, this reminded me of the way the soldiers in “Black Watch” coped with the deaths of fellow soldiers and friends, in a very regimented way.

    I felt this was an interesting play to see for our final performance, as it made us react to something other than the “norm” we have become accustomed to. The construction of speech and silence in this play showed both the depth and mystery of spoken word.

    • I think it’s really interesting how you compared The Aliens and Black Watch. You’re comment got me thinking a little more about how the two plays were similar. I think in both, the main characters were misunderstood by the outside society. In both plays the characters had an air of genius to them that was completely wasted by their inability to fit in. I thought the way both KJ and the main character in Black Watch dealt with grief was starkly different, but both just as unconventional. Overall though, I too felt completely frustrated during the ladder scene. Definitely not my favorite, but it did make a point.

  3. From the get go, the tempo of this play is uncomfortably and excruciatingly slow. Beginning with one giant pause, you get an idea that the two older characters are unsuccessful and a little “off” somehow. KJ and Jasper sit out on that picnic bench smoking and drinking “mushroom tea.” Jasper is visible upset even though he doesn’t speak, but I personally could have gone without the giant pause. When Evan, the high-schooler enters, we find him also a little awkward and uncomfortable, but together the three become maybe just a little heart-warming. Tragedy strikes when the trio becomes a duo with Jasper’s death, and then KJ and Evan are forced to part also. And that’s the entire plot.
    Baker, the playwright, wrote Body Awareness, which had a substantially more complex and unique story line. Body Awareness presented a situation I’d never contemplated before, but The Aliens meticulously describes situations most of us are aware of.
    The beauty of the play is that it mimics real life very well. During the talk back Sean said he knew people just like the ones in the play, and I do too. I’m not sure what the role of the play is, if it just mimics real life. I feel like I could have encountered characters like them by spending two hours walking around my hometown, so why spend two hours at a play? The very fact that those characters are in a play means they should be beautiful, or interesting, or provoking, but because they were such a normal type of weird, I don’t really think about characters I know like that as anything special. Annie Baker though asks us to think of them as beautiful, interesting, and provoking, which is thought-provoking in itself.
    On a side note, I really enjoyed the line in the play where Evan is upset about Jasper’s death, slams a cookie down on the railing, says “I don’t know why I have this cookie!” and leaves. I’m not sure if that’s a very realistic portrayal of grief, but it certainly livened the play up a little bit. I wonder where Annie Baker got that from.

    • Deanna, I agree with your comment about “The beauty of the play is that it mimics real life very well.” I felt like all three characters, Jasper, KJ, and Evan, were people I could see in my neighborhood. I think that’s what made the play more interesting because certain aspects of the characters resembled many of my friends and even myself. I like how you mentioned the characters are normal type of weird and not very special because I also found them very unordinary and strange, but normally weird which made them affable and amiable. I think everyone loved the where Evan slams the door and walks in with a cookie in his hand because it was so random and unexpected, which sure lightened up the mood.

  4. Allison Punch

    Again, I have found that “Aliens” was a play which I did not fully appreciate until the talk-back. I wasn’t quite sure what I got out of the play until we sat down afterwards with the assistant director and two actors and really pored over their relationship with the play, their understanding of Annie Baker’s work, and the relationship to the audience when doing a play with so many silences in this type of theater. I really liked the set up of this play and how perfectly it complimented a theater where every seat gets a different glimpse of the production, in a way that couldn’t be done in a typical theater. With so much silence in the play, and how deeply relatable all three characters are, this is a play that forces the audience to evaluate themselves and connects them in a way that, like Ari said during the talk back, is both moving and uncomfortable, in a very provocative way.

    As someone who has experience directing young people (middle and high school age) to perform in a church, the one thing I always focus on with them is making sure their face is to the audience so that they can be seen and heard. This is why I was so pleased to hear the actors’ opinion of performing in a different stage and the effect it had on the production. This play strongly benefitted from the fact that they could be genuinely looking at their fellow actor without worrying about the audience being able to see their whole face. Instead, the worry then became that not all of the audience would be able to see their face. I really can’t get over how perfect it was for this play that each audience member had a different experience based upon where they were sitting and how that is a perfect metaphor for experiencing any play. We all went into this play, whether we have experience losing someone to drugs, or whether we have experience being a young, awkward high schooler, and that affects our connection with the characters and what we get out of it.

    I was very taken aback by the nature of this play because it initially felt like a huge departure from Body Awareness. It had so much less dialogue, and less rising and falling action. However, I agree with some sentiments shared during the talk-back that Annie Baker still provided the audience with a deep exposure of three characters and the complex interactions between all of them. It gave me a newfound appreciation for her writing that she is able to explore characters in equal depth but in vastly different ways.

    I have to say, this play was not my favorite. I think the second act was redeeming, and the boldness that it takes to write a single word 127 times is worth recognizing, but for me it felt more provocative than necessary without enough opportunity for the audience to learn the intended message. However, seeing the connection the actors felt to their characters and this body of work was really enjoyable and gave me an opportunity to reevaluate what I got out of the play. It was also just enjoyable to see people so committed to a play that it has adopted whole new meaning to them. I do still think that purposefully making the audience feel uncomfortable with long pauses was a little over the top, but I do have to give Annie Baker credit because that is an honest representation of real life. More often that not, life is awkward and uncomfortable, and we do not get out of it what we wish. It is that reality which the play portrayed, and it did so in a way which was bold and unique.

  5. Aliens is a unique play that uses the silence to convey its message as often as it uses dialogue, if not more. The production contained many elements that contributed to an indie theme. The most obvious is probably the storyline. The show began without presenting a clear message to the audience and ended without solidifying a central plot. One theme that was apparent was that of “alienation.” In the first scene, Evan made Jasper and KJ aware that they were intruders in the staff area of the café. As the play progressed and we were witness to the budding friendship between the three characters, Evan’s inclusion into the group and invitation to the 4th of July party lessened his “alien” status in the friendship. Both KJ and Jasper seemed to be aliens in the community of their small town. They refused to enter the café, spoke disapprovingly of their high school teachers and parents, and reject the holiday celebrations. In the second act when Evan wonders where Jasper has been, KJ asks Evan if he likes Jasper better than he likes KJ. This hinted at KJ’s insecurities about his two friends affiliations.

    The use of silence vs. dialogue was an interesting element in the play. I understand now that the opening silence was meant to provide a kind of “immersion” introduction to the dialogue cadences during the remainder of the play and therefore was meant to be awkward. I loved hearing the comments of the actors about the reactions of the audience each night. Another poignant part of the dialogue was the “ladder” monologue. At first the exclusive repetition of the word ladder was a nuisance. It felt like a waste of time. After a few minutes, I understood how that cadence could be soothing to a child who is insecure. Although Jasper’s death shifted the focus of the play to the other two characters, I didn’t understand what purpose it might have had in the plot. I felt his character was prematurely taken from the audience as someone who was able to bridge the gap between the awkwardly she Evan and mentally unstable and socially unaware KJ. Aliens left me with more questions than I entered the theater with, but I think that was the end Annie Baker was looking for, and if so, a job well done to her.

  6. I know this play. I know these characters. I have met them in my own hometown. We’ve done drugs together and wasted our time. Annie Baker, when writing Jasper and KJ, has essentially reintroduced me to the people that I thought were cool when I was in high school. She has done it; and in doing it so, she has put me into the play itself. I was that boy working in the coffee shop. I was Evan. In these regards, it was a difficult play. The nature of the play was so real that it made it difficult to observe it as a piece of art as compared to the other pieces we had seen this season. Compared to the other plays, I found that The Aliens was completely and utterly in the realm of possibility and, in all likelihood, had happened before in a similar way as it was produced for the stage. The fast-pace of plays like Black Watch and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo stood in stark contrast with the slow, nearly prosaic action and dialogue of The Aliens.
    I am not making the case that Annie Baker produced a work that is boring in any manner; I just found the reality of it, the verisimilitude, overwhelming at points. The silences especially were difficult to deal with because as silence is natural when the silence is put on stage, in an unnatural setting for quiet, it becomes confusing and uncomfortable. I remember the very beginning of the play how the silence provoked at first an awkward sort of humor in the audience, but as the quiet continued that humor shifted down to a general unease heard in coughing and shifting bodies. I even heard people behind me conversing about whether or not to leave the play just then or to wait until the end of the first act. It was as if the silence were its own character standing on stage with a sign that read, “THINK.” And it seemed as though some members of the audience weren’t ready to follow that instruction.
    One qualm I had though with this entire piece was a single point in dialogue near the end that removed me from the entire play, it was a point at which the realism turned to kitsch and I feel the integrity of the play was compromised. When KJ says, “You’re gonna go far man.” And Evan replies, “Yeah?” KJ, “Yeah.” As good as the play was up to then, it simply turned into a very slow after school special, but beyond that I enjoyed the play.

  7. For many members of the audience, they did not know how to react to the many uncomfortable silences. Many decided to fill the quiet with laughter, while others were not sure what to do. “The Aliens” at the Studio Theatre last Thursday night had that effect on a lot of people—they were not sure how to react to the play and all of its offbeat moments. From the awkward silences to KJ’s sparkler interpretive dance, it left one with a sense of confusion. As one of the actors mentioned in the post-show discussion, silence is rare in theater. Dialogue and time is precious and usually used as such. But in life, there are silences, and sometimes they are awkward. When I am sitting around with my friends, there are times when we just sit in silence doing our own thing, and there are times when someone becomes uncomfortable by it. “The Aliens” I think was portraying what it really is like when two guys just hang out with each other. Life does not always have perfect moments of dialogue at all the right times.
    Like I always do, I started thinking about the play in the context of this semester’s theme, the ethics and exigencies of the artist. Each character can be considered an artist in his own way: Jasper with his novel and music, KJ with his song lyrics, and Evan with the guitar. I liked how Jasper and KJ’s role as artists allowed Evan to grow and even become an “artist” at the conclusion of the play. Also concerning art, is the poem that is referenced in the title of the play as well as in the play itself: Charles Bukowski’s “The Aliens”. In reading the poem, it made me consider the play in a different light. The poem I think can be applied to this play in various ways. For example, in the poem he writes that some people “go through life with very little friction or distress.” This seems to be the opposite of the characters, so it makes you wonder why Jasper or KJ wanted this name for their band.

  8. The production of The Aliens was not a play I really appreciated until I was able to talk back with the performers. As I sat in the audience watching the same three characters sit on the same picnic table, I began to question the premise of the story. I could not find delight in the strung out lives of KJ and Jasper and I was ultimately confused by the nature of their characters. The exceptional amount of stuttering, pauses and blank stars were a little much at times, but in the end it added a unique theatrical effect that is to be appreciated.

    While it was not a play I would voluntary see again, it did possess many interesting ideas and concepts that I would not have considered without this play. As part of my A-type personality, I have also been very concerned with success. While watching the lives of two middle-aged men who posted out in the back of a coffee shop all day, I started to question what type of fulfillment they would find in that type of life. It wasn’t until Jasper started to read pages from his novel that it hit, that lifestyle was what he needed to be happy.

    Even though my idea of happiness does not mimic the lives of KJ and Jasper, it does not mean that there lifestyle and happiness is any less significant than mine. They found fulfillment in relaxation and time with friends—both actions I tend to overlook on my journey towards success.

    During the talk back, one of the actors spoke to the scene where KJ says the word ‘ladder’ 137 times. As I sat through that ten-minute scene, I became more and more frustrated. I for one could not think of a rhyme or reason to explain the very strange phenomena, but once we heard the actor’s perceptive, I was able to gain some appreciation for the scene. If I was in the position of Annie Baker, I would feel so accomplished to know that I had signified that that scene would remained unchanged, and that is exactly what it did at the Studio Theatre’s showcase of The Aliens.

    • I suppose I agree with you when you comment on how the post-discussion changed your views on the play considerably. I can see where she would not want to budge because this was her artistic vision and what she wanted the production to be like. The production would not have been the same without some of the silences and repetitive lines, so we really do not know how it would have been otherwise. It was really nice that all of the actors support her and her vision. It would have been interesting to see the version that went to stage in London without the silences to see what it would have turned out like.

  9. Although this was not one of my favorite productions we have seen over the semester, “The Aliens” did have notable scenes that did have an impact on me. One of these scenes of the production that had an impact on me is the scene where KJ finally tells Evan that Jasper had passed away from an overdose. Although I sincerely appreciated the reality of the mental breakdown that KJ had because of the loss of his closest friend, I thought that the repetitive part of the script was somewhat unrealistic. It took away from the impact that the scene had on me, which was actually very deep and hit home for me.

    Unfortunately, there were a lot of deaths of students in my high school during the four years I attended. It was a very devastating time and a lot of students were very fragile and it was easily relatable to the situation KJ was going through for me. I really enjoyed the realistic theme of the production, but I feel like the over-exaggerated silences and other aspects made it a little bit unrealistic at points.

    However, I really did come to appreciate the silence and repetitions in Evan’s part of the script. I feel that everyone can relate to a point in their life when they were trying to fit in and most of the time they just came across as awkward.

    I think this production really speaks to the theme of the growth of the individual that we have discussed over our term. Although KJ seemed to be in an extended stall pattern for a majority of the play and then regressed after the death of Jasper, he seemed to be making a fresh start when he discussed moving somewhere new. Also, Evan seemed to be making growth in the relationship aspect of his life. In the beginning he made a comment that he did not really have any friends, but throughout the play we see his creation of a friendship with Jasper and KJ and the blossoming of his love life with a newly found girl at “band camp.”

    Overall, I felt the script lacked substance, but I felt it was well directed and acted for what the contributors had to work with.

  10. The Aliens left me feeling the most unsettled out of all the plays we have seen this semester. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and Black Watch – though they portrayed scenes of war that were difficult to digest – engaged the audience in constant dynamism and action. The Aliens, in contrast, required a kind of patience and attention from the audience that no other play demanded. Why? Because of its silence and repetition.

    The set did not change; the positions of the characters and the tone of their voices usually did not change. The most conspicuous and alarming shift occurred in the second half of the play via absence rather than addition; Jasper no longer takes his place on the bench with his cigarettes, and a palpable gap exists as the audience watches KJ and Evan attempt to build a relationship originally formed between three people. Rather than introducing a disruptive character into the play like Frank in Body Awareness, Annie Baker utilizes absence to examine how a relationship is impacted. And the absence of speech is meant to portray communication between the characters and the complications involved in friendships as well.

    Perhaps both silence and repetition bother me more than the average person, but I felt like constantly squirming throughout the play. I could not buy into the silences; I simply felt restless, waiting for the characters to speak and wondering what they were thinking about. I imagined KJ’s mushroom-influenced thoughts swirling around in the air above his mind, not sure whether I should find them profound or amusing. The tense atmosphere in the audience was noticeable, as the actors pointed out in the talk-back; much more coughing, shifting, and glancing around the theater occurred compared to a normal theatergoing experience. During the “ladder” monologue, I could not continue listening; I tried to block the word from my mind by thinking about other things, afraid it would become stuck in my head later. The scene portrayed KJ’s state of mind effectively, but did place the audience in a high level of discomfort as a result.

    I saw few parallels with the last play we saw by Ms. Baker, Body Awareness. The theme of alienation appeared in both plays, but the quick and humorous dialogue between the characters in Body Awareness did not appear here. I did see a similarity between the two with Ms. Baker’s interest in ritual. Just as Phyllis, Jarred, and Joyce conducted a Jewish ceremony over dinner to bring them together, KJ introduces some sort of Buddhist blessing to foster a connection between Evan and himself. Though both rituals were somewhat silly and informal, the intent behind them was sincere. Evan’s character appeared slightly reassured and less lost in his grief after the blessing took place, despite its absurdity. He embodied the awkward teenager role very effectively – the “Um… cool” line was something I heard countless times in high school from unsure adolescents and a great illustration of his hesitancy.

    • Alisha noticed something that I did not think much about—the alarming shift that occurred with the absence of Jasper in the second half of the play. Although this shocked me, I never thought of it in terms of being the opposite of many plays. It does seem true that many plays, including Body Awareness, often introduce a “disruptive character” later in the show to create new drama. After reflecting on what Alisha has written, I now see the absence of Jasper as that “disruptive character.” The whole second half of the play is based on KJ and Evan trying to build a relationship to continue the friendship that was closely tied to Jasper, and being a group of three. I even feel like the second half of the play showed Evan attempting to really embody and sort of become a new Jasper for KJ. This, for me, made the second half of the play more uncomfortable; I felt something was missing, obviously a character, but also a certain dynamic that made the awkward and uncomfortable encounters a little more grounded.

    • I hadn’t realized that both of Annie Baker’s plays had some type of religious element in them. I think it’s interested that while both had Jewish elements (the family in Body Awareness and Jarred’s “Jewish Camp”) only The Aliens made use of Buddhism. I really liked the character of KJ’s mom, even though she never played a role on stage. I saw a little bit of resemblance between KJ’s mom and Joyce in Body Awareness. They both brought in wandering artists and gave them a place to stay. I agree though, that the blessing was completely absurd, particularly since KJ clearly was not a very pious Buddhist, but it speaks volumes about the power of belief, even for the “non-religious” to have a strong calming effect.

  11. “The Aliens” was a fascinating and heartwarming experience. I loved the tranquil atmosphere and the humorous storyline. Jasper and KJ relaxing in the backyard of a restaurant smoking and drinking tea(?) made me want to join them and be part of the social circle. At first, I didn’t know why the play was named “The Aliens”. I thought “The Aliens” were referring to the three characters: Jasper, KJ and Evan. But later found out it was their band’s name.
    Jasper and KJ always hanged out in the back of the restaurant and that’s where they met Evan. I thought Evan was an interesting character and I reflected on him the most because I thought I have some characteristics like him. Like when he doesn’t kick out Jasper and KJ even though when they are not suppose to be there and three of them soon becomes good friends.
    I was really surprised when we found out that Jasper had died from a drug overdoes because Evan was waiting for him to come back but now he will never see him again. The scene reminded of me when I was young and I always waited for my dad to come to fall asleep. I thought I could understand what Evan was going through when he found out Jasper will never come back. I would feel devastated and deceived because KJ didn’t tell Evan earlier. I loved the last scene, where Evan started smoking cigarettes because even though smoking is bad, I thought Evan was following Jasper’s footsteps. Even though Jasper passed away, he will be always remembered and Jasper’s identity carried on through Evan. It made me think how Evan will turn out in 10, 20 years.
    Overall, I loved the play’s calm and relaxing environment and the play made me feel like I came out from a nice warm shower.

    • I think the title of the play did refer to the characters themselves in addition to being the name of their band. Your comment got me thinking about the reasons behind the name for the play. I think it might have something to do with the fact that none of the characters seemed to fit in with the rest of their town. The fact that they wouldn’t go to the fourth of July celebrations seemed alien to me, and their analysis of the celebration, wondering why we all sit around shooting things into the sky and watching them explode demonstrated their alien point of view. At the same time though, they didn’t feel “foreign” at all, and in fact felt like the typical losers hanging around all of our hometowns. Anyway, just something to think about.

  12. Among all the plays we have seen this semester, The Aliens is a very unique production that sincerely explored human being’s relationship by looking at the silence between conversations. There are two kinds of silence portrayed in this play: comfortable and awkward, and these two kinds represent two different types of relationships: comfortable and uncomfortable.

    The show had a very surprising and talented beginning. The show started with 5 minutes of silence. Audiences were presented with two characters that were living in their own worlds, smoking and thinking. Though confused in the very beginning, as I got myself into the plot, I understood the purpose of the production team. KJ and Jasper were doing their own things, not talking at all, but I could not sense any awkwardness. This is because they are true friends, and as David Tyson Gentry said, “true friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable”.

    However, when Evan appeared, the scene started to get intense, and the atmosphere became uncomfortable. I could sense Evan’s fear and nervousness when he was talking to KJ and Jasper. To Evan, KJ and Jasper represented a new type of people that he had never gotten to know before. They do drugs, they drink, they smoke, they play music. They are the definition of cool to him, an unpopular teenager in high school. As a result, he tried really hard to fit in and become one of them. When there was silence between conversations, Evan nervously tried to figure out what to say, yet was afraid to say whatever he wanted to say. When Evan did not know what to say at all, he said “cool”, “awesome” and nodded a lot, trying to show that he understood and agreed with KJ and Jasper. Evan’s attempt to fit in the group of KJ and Jasper led to the uncomfortable silence between conversations.

    One scene in this play gave an explanation of the uncomfortable silence and was very thought provoking. In this scene, KJ asked Jasper if Jasper felt anything weird during silence, Jasper said, “projecting, man, you are projecting”. This line totally changed my view of awkward silence. When I was experiencing awkward silence moments before, was it really awkward for all the people in the conversation, or was it just awkward for me, and I projected my feelings onto other people, so I thought the silence was awkward?

    Overall, The Aliens is a very interesting and unique play. Although I could not agree with the life styles of KJ and Jasper, I did feel that these two characters in this play were detailedly portrayed, and all of the three characters were very vivid. I especially love the stage setting of this play. It was very realistic and perfectly assisted the plot development.

    • Mo, I loved the fact you divided up the silence into two groups: comfortable and awkwardness. I never thought about that before reading your blog post. I think everyone was confused with the 5 minute of silence beginning of the show. I was also thinking, “When is the show going to start?” But I also didn’t feel any sense awkwardness because the two characters, Jasper and KJ, looked so comfortable and relaxed. The atmosphere in the theater was very cozy and welcoming with orange lighting and a small fan noise that blew the smoke away. I’m mentioning this again but I love how you find the quotes that exactly fit the plays. I think the quote by Tyson Gentry amazingly fits the play like a puzzle. The quote also reflected on me the most because it made me think about my friends. Even though, there might be silence at times, we all feel comfortable and secure in the group.

    • I also really appreciated the way you split silence up between comfortable and uncomfortable. Pure genius! I think you’re right that at the beginning we could tell immediately that the two characters were friends, and then we could tell immediately that Jarred was an outsider. What was even more amazing was that at the beginning, without saying a word, we could tell that Jasper was upset at something. His friend didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything at all. I also really like how you remembered the scene where KJ says “projecting man, you’re projecting,” which I didn’t understand at all the first time around. It makes a lot of sense that he would be saying that Jasper was projecting awkwardness.

  13. Jessica Fuentes

    “The Aliens” by Annie Baker is not my favorite play of this semester. I tried really hard to understand this play, to find a deep meaning in the story, to focus on the staging props, but the truth is that I found very little to intrigue me.

    Although I did not expect to see real aliens in this play, a part of me assumed that there a significant part of the play was going to be connected to the title. When I read the “Note from the Dramaturg” I though that maybe Evan was going to be an “alien” to the new town or even to the relationship between Japer and KJ, and although the play did touch upon Evans alienation from the rest of the town, there still lacked that connection I was waiting for.

    It was a very difficult play to follow. The silent moments seem to drag along forever. I recalled a quote from the program that referred to Baker’s dialogue as: “a strange power that puts us immediately into the world she creates and makes us surrender to whatever comes next”. I have to admit, there was a point where I did “surrender” and I stopped thinking about the bigger meaning and just focused on what was happening on stage. Unfortunately that moment did not last long and instead because frustration with what seem to me unnecessary long pauses.

    The long silences annoyed me. I later thought about why I felt so frustrated by these and that lend me to think about the moments of silence in my daily life. I thought about how people react to silence and how some either enjoy it or hate it. I personally don’t mind silence when I’m alone or when I’m doing something that requires silence, what I do mind is awkward silence and I felt there was a lot of that in this play.

    I admire the detail with which every movement was perfectly executed. When sitting right behind Jasper, KJ slowly picks up his paper cup full with tea, takes a gentle sip, holds the cup for a few seconds, and then slowly places it back on the table without making a sound. This I was able to truly appreciate and I guess it must happen in all plays, but it was so well done that it captivated me.

    Again, I am no professional critic. I don’t know about playwriting, production, or acting. It is possible that my feelings towards this play could have been influenced by the previous Annie Baker play we saw early in the semester, “Body Awareness”; a magnificent multi-complex play that I would definitely pay to see again. I assumed this play was going to be equally great and had high expectations.

  14. John McKissick

    ‘The Aliens’ was a challenging, frustrating play for me, but I don’t think Annie Baker meant for the performance to be the equivalent of an idyllic romp in the park. ‘Aliens’ presents an uncompromising depiction of the inept fragility of human communication that is incredibly bold- perhaps too bold for my own blood. Baker chooses to convey this message through ineffectual dialogue and prolonged scenes in complete silence, with little to no action. While this provocative vision is brought before the audience by a wonderful cast of actors, who are fervent believers in Baker’s cause of expressing humanity’s in-expression, her methods seem inaccessible to a general audience. As I listened to the actors explain their passion for ‘Aliens’ in the talkback, it seemed to me as if much of their admiration stemmed from frustration in plays put through workshops, which lost much of their original artistic flair after a trial by fire from committees and compromises. In contrast, ‘Aliens’ is the real deal; it is the unadulterated artistic vision come to life. In that sense, I do appreciate the play. However, when I take a step back from the perspective I received from the theatrical community, and think as I would as another member of the audience (whom I could see quite well directly before me, due to the thrust configuration), ‘Aliens’ is a little harder to grasp, much less appreciate.
    The play got me thinking about what an audience does or is expected to do when they enter the space of the theater. After everyone is seated, has turned off their cell phones or antique beepers, and the lights are dimmed, the audience focuses upon the stage. From that point on, in theory, the audience invests in the performance before their eyes and a suspension of disbelief occurs, where they so engulfed in what is unfolding before their eyes on stage that they lose awareness of sitting in a seat in a theater. The problem with ‘Aliens’ is that it begun with an incredibly long silence… and I wonder audience appropriately ‘invested’ in the first act.
    In today’s world, many people loath silence. A lack of activity signals something’s wrong. You could have definitely felt that in the audience on Thursday. Confronted with silence, the audience attempted to break the silence with nervous laughter, unsure of what was before them, unsure of whether their confusion was meant to be humorous. I don’t think silence is a bad thing. I think our society needs more silence; whether it’s more time to reflect or more time to just ‘be’. Everyone has even dealt with the vacuous silence, as encountered in the first act- but usually our moments of vacuous silence are shared with friends, classmates or at least some knowable quantity. We usually aren’t forced into vacuous silence with complete strangers. Even when I’m on the train with people I don’t know, I don’t stare at strangers for 5 minutes on end; usually my mind wanders on to other things. I don’t think I would be too far off the mark to guess that there were some in the audience, myself included, who felt their mind beginning to wander when confronted with two silence strangers standing on stage for minutes on end. So I feel the 5 minutes of silence was an overwhelming way to begin the first act.
    There was another moment when I just felt the play was unbelievable. Just before the scene where KJ has an uncomfortable breakdown, he tells Evan that he wants to kill himself. Immediately, Evan takes out his cell phone and tells his mom he’s going to be late for dinner. Just that casual suicidal statement is enough to startle even Evan to take some action departing from his usual trajectory. As the scene progresses and KJ proceeds to utter the word ‘ladder’ 125 times, Evan stands around awkwardly for the full five or so minutes. I felt such juxtaposition between Evan’s immediate reaction to KJ’s earlier statement and his later mental breakdown, which may have been signs of something much more serious. Maybe I should have gone along with it, but I did feel a jarring difference in Evan’s two different reactions to KJ, minutes apart from each other.
    All in all, ‘Aliens’ was an interesting play. I understood its message and what it was trying to say in general, but I felt its methods were a bit inaccessible. But who says art has to always be accessible and acceptable for a ‘general audience’? It has its own vision and brings something new to the table. Was it my favorite play this semester? No. Did I think it was a perfect play? No. But it was a unique work, which is much more than I can say for so many other things, in our age of sequels, remakes and reboots.

  15. Thursday night officially marked the end of my amazing DC theater-going experience. As a student who had very little prior theater experience, I must say that overall I have found a new appreciation for the arts! Our last play for the semester was “The Aliens” by Annie Baker. Before going in to this production, I held high hopes and expectations. After all, I have witnessed previous work from Baker. Annie Baker’s play “Body Awareness” was an amazing play that explored the complexities of identity and comfort in one’s skin. It was so relatable! Socially constructed ideals of what it means to be a man/woman, what it means to be a family, what it means to be successful, or what it means to be beautiful has immensely pressured today’s society and was prevalent throughout Body Awareness. Body Awareness left a staggering message that will always resonate with me; no matter what we may or may not achieve in this life, we are all interconnected on a constant search of self identity and comfort in our own skin. “The Aliens” is an original Annie Baker production, so this was going to be nothing short of amazing!…So I thought.

    The play, “The Aliens”, explored the lives and friendship between three “social misfits”. Let’s just call it what it is, they were losers! Two of the main characters were self-described “geniuses” but in reality were unemployed living in an alternative lifestyle that surround themselves with philosophy, song lyrics, and the “vulnerabilities of cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, and failed relationships with the opposite sex.” The other character was socially awkward and insecure in his abilities and constantly second guessed all of his thoughts. Now that I think about it, this really had the makings of a potentially great play!

    To truly appreciate this play, one needed an extreme amount of patience. Personally, this play was very frustrating for me. I simply did not have the patience for the long uncomfortable pauses that was followed by a brief few sentences of conversation, and then continued silence. Maybe the uncomfortable silence was intentional? I don’t know.

    After the talkback, I will always respect the strong will that Anne Baker had in order to keep this play completely original and unchanged. Whether the play affected me or not, it was certainly original. One thing I did learn from “The Aliens” is that each play is different; just because it comes from the same playwright, does NOT mean it will necessarily have similar impacts as previous works.