Photo: David Parker
The American poet, short story writer and novelist Henry Charles Bukowski was known for drawing his inspiration from every day, ordinary people. In 1986, Time
called him the ‘laureate of American lowlife’. Fitting, then, that The Aliens
, the latest offering from the Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, should take its title from his poem of the same name.
Like the poem, which reads "You may not believe it/ but there are people/ who go through life with/ very little friction of distress.... but I am not one of / them," the characters in The Aliens have an inner turmoil that manifests itself in varying ways: Jasper’s (Brett Cousins) distress lies inwardly, with the breakup of his relationship ‘the best day of his life’ (said through clenched teeth) while KJ (Brett Ludeman) battles with mental illness and an ego that drives his baffling and ill-thought out logic. Evan (David Harrison) is a victim thanks to a sheltered upbringing that leaves him without a paddle in the world outside.
Jasper, an aspiring novelist, and KJ, an unemployed no-hoper, already have a history, and from the get-go we see that KJ is slightly unhinged – drinking mushroom tea, singing strange songs, and generally behaving in an off key way – while Jasper plays a paternal role in the friendship; keeping KJ in line while emanating a stoic, intelligent kind of angry amusement with the world, which is executed perfectly by Brett Cousins.
Evan, a stumbling, nervous 17-year-old, encounters the pair when he has to ask them to move from the back of the cafe they inhabit. Harrison inhabits this role beautifully, and his bumbling efforts to be nice and say the right thing, elicit an audible "aww" from the audience at times.
The direction of Nadia Tass, whose last effort with Red Stitch was The Gronholm Method, plays on grander scale emotions, especially during a scene of grief where, for the character of Evan at least, a more subtle approach might have better appealed. Still, for the most part, she has worked well with the brilliant script by American playwright, Annie Baker, and the actors to create a funny, engaging and moving account of America – from its literary icons and dreams of grandeur to the harsh reality of the lives that many lead.
Particular highlights include a scene where Jasper reads from his unfinished novel – consider this my official request for you to write a novel, Ms Baker – and the 4th of July celebrations, a culmination of the wrong and right side of the tracks and the different problems each face. As The Whitlams once sang, "All my friends are fuck-ups, but they’re fun to have around," and more than once during this play this line came to mind.
Overall, a funny, erudite examination of America’s underclass and what we can gain from the unlikeliest of friendships. While the play tackles a bleak subject matter, it doesn’t leave you reeling and is easily digestible while maintaining its integrity and intelligence.
Rating: Four stars
by Annie Baker
Directed by Nadia Tass
Cast: Brett Cousins, Brett Ludeman, David Harrison
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre
August 26 – September 24