At last, a play for the Moldovan balloon wrangler in all of us. Saviana Stanescu's "Aliens With Extraordinary Skills" is about as structurally sound as an old cobweb, but, like a cobweb, it's hard not to take a little of it with you when you leave.
At last, a play for the Moldovan balloon wrangler in all of us. Saviana Stanescu’s “Aliens With Extraordinary Skills” is about as structurally sound as an old cobweb, but, like a cobweb, it’s hard not to take a little of it with you when you leave. Tea Alagic’s endlessly inventive staging for the Women’s Project gives Stanescu’s characters a chance to live a little, especially Nadia, a wide-eyed Eastern bloc immigrant with dreams of plying her trade — clowning, with balloon animals — in New York City. The character arcs make almost no sense, but individual scenes work beautifully.
One suspects this has more to do with the director than the writer. Alagic has coaxed adorable performances out of Natalia Payne as Nadia and Seth Fisher as the hilariously morose Borat, another, sadder clown. The two come to America as the aliens of the title, attached to a circus that would provide them with gainful employment if only it existed anywhere but on their visa applications.
Still, Nadia in particular remains optimistic, reasoning that it wouldn’t make sense to kick her out of the country. “I came here on a clown visa, and I am working as a clown!” she yelps to the increasingly cynical Borat. The two decide to divide and conquer, Borat heading to Queens to work as a cab driver, Nadia to Washington Heights in search of cheap rent.
Between scenes, Nadia is dogged by a pair of serpentine Homeland Security agents (Shirine Babb and Gian Murray Gianino) cobbled together out of her deportation fears. For a one-time dream sequence, these characters are a great idea, but as the plot advances and Nadia begins to find work and assimilate into American society, they serve less of a purpose. They can’t be antagonists, because they don’t fit into the story, and since she never mentions them to anyone else, their continuing intrusions don’t make a lot of sense.
At least they’re stylish. Alagic has INS 1 and INS 2 oil around Kris Stone’s clever set, chasing Nadia through vast, undulating video backdrops that make you forget, momentarily, you are watching a play about the romance and career troubles of a perky Eastern European gal, and not a nutball experimental piece.
But the play is better when Alagic doesn’t have to apologize for the script, and the funniest scenes take place one on one between Nadia and her admirers, Borat and an American loser named Bob (Kevin Isola). Bob drifts aimlessly into the apartment Nadia shares with Lupita (Jessica Pimentel, who is really overdoing it) like an errant dust bunny, excusing his listless imposition with regular cases of Bud.
Bob is a weird character. Early on in the play when he’s IMing Lupita, he’s a complete tool, but his later interactions with Nadia are uncharacteristically considerate. Did something happen to this guy between scenes? People can change, even quickly, but crude, foul-mouthed guys don’t magically morph into mensches just ’cause they feel like it. The inevitable romance would be harder to swallow if it didn’t climax in such a sweet scene.
It’s a diffuse play, with Borat wandering off into cab driver land and an affair with Lupita, and an ending that rings weirdly false as Stanescu tries to bring things full circle by incorporating Homeland Security. On top of that, somebody — it’s hard to tell if it was Stanescu or Alagic — decided this play needed some ambiguity right at the end. The result is significantly less than the sum of its parts, but it’s still a pleasant way to spend an evening, especially buoyed by the unusually creative presentation and fun performances.