by John Stoltenberg
In The Aliens, playwright Annie Baker seems to have put a dumpsterful of Pinter pauses and Becket silences onstage at Studio Theater. Unspoken ellipses seem to hover overhead forever in invisible thought balloons. As characters hesitate to speak, then hesitate some more, we wait, expectantly. And amazingly, all that nonlanguage becomes emotional eloquence before our very ears.
This surprising and rewarding play, deftly directed by Lila Nuegebauer, has a humble setup: Two slacker layabouts loitering on the back patio of a Vermont coffeehouse are joined by a teenage dweeb who is the coffeehouse scullery boy. And they talk. Or they don’t talk. There is poetry and song. Or there are aching unexpressed longings. And in the end a life is lost and a life transformed.
Baker’s inventive and insightful verbal/nonverbal score would likely fall quite flat if not well acted, and these three actors played it with near-perfect pitch: Scot McKenzie as KJ, a big lunk of a psilocybin head, Peter O’Connor as Jasper, a wannabe beat novelist; and Brian Miskell as Evan Schelmerdine, an awkward and shy kid on the cusp of everything.
A program note explains that Baker specified that at least a third, if not a half, of The Aliens consist of silence. The effect is mesmerizing. Even as we hang on every word, the characters’ nonspeaking speaks volumes.