Just back from seeing Annie Baker’s The Aliens at the Bush.
KJ and Jasper are two wasters who hang
out in the private backyard of a coffee shop. Jasper is writing a novel;
KJ writes songs and drinks shroom tea. Evan, a seventeen-year-old who
works in the coffee shop, befriends them. Jasper dies in a drug overdose
(at least, so says KJ) and Evan inherits his guitar.
Yes, that’s about all there is to it.
It’s not a plotty play; it’s a play about stagnation, and two guys
reaching the age when dreams start to disappear. It’s about Evan’s
coming of age and it’s perhaps, once again, about a mythical America of
Going West and finding oneself.
The dialogue is really great and very
sparky, well observed and prettilessly elegant. It’s an extremely funny
play too. Their songs are ridiculous prog-rock nonsense but the moment
where they sing ‘The Frogmen’ at the end of Act One was rather adorable.
For me it never quite took off as a
play. In the second half - maybe this was just me - I spent so long
wondering if KJ was telling the truth about Jasper’s death that I didn’t
really tune in to any real sense of grief or loss. The scene at the end
where Evan plays ‘If I Had a Hammer’ very badly on Jasper’s guitar was
cute but I felt I wanted a bigger outburst by that point.
The star of the evening is the acting. Mackenzie Crook is wonderful as the brooding, grimly serious Jasper; Ralf Little is surprisingly convincing as the psychotropic slacker KJ; Ollie Alexander seemed mannered at first but his perfectly-pitched awkwardness melts your heart. It’s a typically well-judged production from Peter Gill. It was a superb performance of an inessential play, I thought.