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Review: The Aliens at Studio Theatre

Arty Pants
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I’ve been a Logan Circle resident for seven months now, but it’s taken me a little while to get settled. I only recently installed blinds in my condo. So if there is any indication of how reluctant I am to settle on decisions involving my new home, the fact that most of the neighbors have probably seen me naked by now is a clear one.

Other hard decisions involve neighborhood habits. Where’s my dry cleaner? Where’s my coffee shop stop on the way to work? Where’s my neighborhood watering hole? Where’s my local playhouse?

On the playhouse note, I have been frequenting the Woolly Mammoth Theatre since moving to D.C. four years ago, but after seeing The Aliens at The Studio Theatre (conveniently, a five-minute walk from my house) Tuesday night, I might relocate my theater heart to my ‘hood.

You see, The Aliens was good. And, because of this and the proximity to my doorstep, I might already be hooked on the Studio.

I was a little concerned when I arrived before the show. My girlfriend Laura and I were perhaps the only people in the building without a walker. Nor did we need the headphones that were given out for those hard of hearing. (I know I will be raped for ageism in the comments on this one, but I’m just being honest here.)

But, shockingly, The Aliens was written for a much younger audience. One that is OK with the actors smoking the entire time, talking about drugs and sex, and facing the hard truths of an overdose.

The entire play is set in the back of a coffeehouse in a fictional any-town in Vermont, complete with a dumpster and grass growing through the cracks in the asphalt. Two grungy guy friends are just hanging out, making ‘shroom tea, talking about life. It was like a low-budget near-homeless version of the movie The Hangover, but, you know, real.

The Bradley Cooper of the duo is Jasper, a young drifter and aspiring novelist. The high school dropout, raw from a recent relationship ending and inspired to write, is played brilliantly by Peter O’Connor. You want to hang out with him and get to know him more.

The Zach Galifianakis of the duo went a little deeper. KJ is a college dropout with skeletons of breakdowns in his closet. Played by Scot McKenzie, he vacillates from high and happy to in a deep depression, recalling a breakdown by repeating the word “ladder” for a full, oh, ten minutes.

Yes, the play is that slow. No one spoke or moved much for perhaps the first five minutes. In fact, the playwright, Annie Baker, apparently dictates that at least one-third of the play is silence. But in that silence are truthful moments, during which I couldn’t take my eyes off the actors. And, being that it’s in a small theater, you can see every breath, every twitch, and every movement tells a story.

So the characters grew, and the story got interesting when a young man named Evan, who works at the coffee shop, struck up a relationship with the grungy pair. The shy, nerdy kid, played to perfection by Brian Miskell, ended up being very influenced and moved by them, their habits, their love of Bukowski, and their musical and literary leanings.

At the end, the play takes a surprising, but touching turn, teaching a lesson about friendship.

The Aliens is at Studio Theatre through December 23. Tickets ($39 to $72) are available here.

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