The Aliens

Given the lack of action and conflict, it doesn't quite measure up as a full-length play.

KJ - Michael Chernus Jasper - Erin Gann Evan - Dane Dehaan

The “Aliens” that Annie Baker treats with such compassion and cruelty in her new play of that name are the leftover kids from “American Idiot” and “Rent,” ten years on — the ones who survived their 20s and are entering their 30s with no artistic talent, no practical skills, and a bad drug habit. Baker’s losers and the naive high school boy who falls for their pathetic line of b-s are the kind of characters that tyro companies love to get their hands on. But it takes pro skill to keep the sketched-in dialog and dragged-out silences from becoming overly mannered.

Sam Gold, who also directed Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” scores with another ultra-clean production, this one solidly in the iconoclastic spirit that defines the Rattlestick sensibility. From Andrew Lieberman’s rough set of the back patio of a diner in end-of-the-world rural Vermont to the tee shirts that rags-man Bobby Fredrick Tilley II uses to telegraph the thoughts of the people wearing them, this is one meticulously mounted show.

Jasper (Erin Gann) and KJ (Michael Chernus), the two scruffy, bearded slackers who have made this uninviting spot their refuge, treat it as their private sanctuary where they can hide out from the real world and indulge their pretensions of being an artistic genius (Jasper) and a mystic healer (KJ).

Gann knows how to stand his stage ground, and his glaring Jasper remains a calm, almost dead center of quiet craziness. The slightly more socialized KJ concentrates on finding words, or song lyrics, for the inchoate thoughts buzzing in his medicated brain. Chernus, a big fella who uses his bulk to emphasize KJ’s verbal clumsiness, makes his struggles as sad as they are funny,

No one but an idiot — or a 17-year-old high school boy — would fall for the pathetic fantasies of these ersatz hippies. The moony stroke-songs (“Triple Dimensional Superstar”) supplied by Patch Darragh and both of the actors, and sung with touching belief in their goodness by Chernus’s KJ, are hilariously awful. As is the original literary passage (“Her bedroom smelled faintly of stale piss …”) that Jasper reads aloud.

There are no mental defectives in this play, but Evan (Dane Dehaan), the kid who works in the kitchen, fills the bill for a gullible audience. Shy, skinny, and pathologically lonesome, Evan is a heartbreaker and Dehaan, who looks about 12 but has the acting chops of a veteran, is a rare find. The young thesp may be a novice, but he nails it all: the quaking voice, the caved-in chest, the yearning eyes of the boy who desperately longs for a friend. Once Dehaan lets down Evan’s cover and begins to reveal the depths of his isolation in this backwater town, the play finally gets serious.

In another world, “The Aliens” (one of many discarded names for the rock band that Jasper and KJ never got off the ground) would be another sensitive short story about the inarticulateness of a sad generation of lost boys. The slender story has more heft on the stage, but given the lack of action and conflict, along with all those self-indulgent pauses and attenuated stretches of silence, it doesn’t quite measure up as a full-length play. The characters — and the actors who play them — save it. But Baker is a real talent and she can do better than this.

The Aliens

Rattlestick Theater; 97 seats; $45 top

Production: A Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production of a play in two acts by Annie Baker. Directed by Sam Gold.

Creative: Set, Andrew Lieberman; costumes, Bobby Fredrick Tilley II; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; sound, Bart Fasbender; original songs, Michael Chernus, Patch Darragh, Erin Gann; production stage manager, Nicole Bouclier. Reviewed, April 21, 2010. Opened April 22. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: KJ - Michael Chernus Jasper - Erin Gann Evan - Dane Dehaan

More Legit

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Warner Music Group Logo

    Warner Music Acquires Musical Theater Indie First Night Records

    Warner Music Group has acquired First Night Record, an independent record label for West End and Broadway musical theatre cast recordings. The company will be overseen by WMG’s Arts Music Division, led by President Kevin Gore. First Night co-founder John Craig will join the Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement to identify and record musical theatre productions in [...]

  • Broadway

    Broadway Back In Biz After Power Outage Ends

    The bright lights of Broadway were back on Sunday morning as midtown Manhattan recovered from a power outage that lasted nearly seven hours in some areas. Social media was full of examples of how New Yorkers rose to the occasion after the power went out on a hot Saturday night shortly before 7 p.m. ET. [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    Power Restored in New York City After Massive Outage Hits Broadway

    UPDATED: Power has gradually been restored to Midtown Manhattan and the theater district after what New York City officials described as a rolling blackout that darkened Times Square and other high-traffic areas on Saturday night. Officials said all power should be restored to the 73,000 customers affected by the outage by midnight ET. Local media [...]

  • Slave Play

    Controversial 'Slave Play' Is Broadway Bound

    “Slave Play,” a controversial drama that examined race and sexuality, is moving to Broadway for a limited run. Written by theatrical wunderkind Jeremy O. Harris, “Slave Play” was a sensation when it ran at the New York Theatre Workshop, drawing such bold-faced names as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Kushner. The show will debut at [...]

  • Mary Said What She Said

    Critic's Notebook: Seeing Isabelle Huppert and Dimitris Papaioannou in Paris

    “Do you miss Paris?” I get that question a lot, but never know what to say. How could I not? The two years I spent in that splendid city covering international cinema for Variety changed my life. “What do you miss most about Paris?” That’s a tough one too. The booksellers on the sidewalk in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content