The Aliens (Coal Mine Theatre)
In the under 100-seat theatre category, no fall opening has been more eagerly anticipated by theatre aficionados than this 2010 Annie Baker play, having its Canadian premiere, especially after the universal critical acclaim for Company Theatre’s production of Baker’s John this February.
The Aliens may be an early work by Baker, but it still showcases her extraordinary ear for dialogue, and the effectiveness of her preference for long sustained pauses to heighten dramatic tension, and to make dialogue more naturalistic—despite our TV and film- influenced perception that realistic dialogue should be overlapping and constantly interrupting.
Best friends Jasper (Noah Reid) and KJ (Will Greenblatt) spend large parts of their days occupying the secluded staff area behind a cafe in their (fictional) Vermont town, discussing Jasper’s relationship troubles, and their artistic pursuits. (Jasper is an aspiring novelist; KJ is a self-styled philosopher, song writer, and poet.) When teenage cafe employee Evan (Maxwell Haynes) intrudes—at first to stutter out a warning that the back patio is for staff only, and later, out of a curiosity about the roguish pair—Jasper and KJ warm to him, despite a decade or more age difference between them. A Fourth of July meeting, when the friends showcase their writing and a song from their old band (called many names, but also, the play’s title), duly impresses Evan, who, despite being a counsellor at a music camp, is still in a nascent stage of understanding the allure and power of artistic expression.
It’s rare to see male intimacy depicted so effectively on stage: desperate, yearning, and fraught with fear, and rightly so, as a few wrong words on either side could seemingly lead to conflict and violence. Jasper and KJ have become calloused by some rough living, relayed in bits and pieces in their stories, but Evan is raw and vulnerable. Haynes’s performance is a remarkable Toronto stage debut, and a casting coup by director Mitchell Cushman; like Wayne Burns in Miss, Haynes excels in the role of a seemingly low-status character who’s gradually revealed to be less damaged, and possibly more resilient in the long run, than the older characters.
In the first act, Jasper muses at one point, “The state of having lost something is, like, the most enlightened state.” This thinking is eventually put to the test, and emerges as a profound love. It’s a joy to watch that love develop between these men.
To October 8, Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Avenue), Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., $42.50 ($25 rush and arts worker tickets).