Reviewed by Lory Martinez
Andrew Tooley’s directorial debut — of The Aliens by Annie Baker — transported Binghamton University audiences to a sleepy town in Vermont this past weekend with a coming-of-age story that is as enlightening as it is endearing. The production was the first of four graduate thesis plays to be presented by the BU Theatre Department, and it definitely will be a tough act to follow.
The Aliens revolves around two young men, Jasper (Jonathan Molyneaux) and KJ (Tyler Downey), who spend their days in the back lot of a coffee shop. This safe haven of sorts is where they discuss their place in the world with the help of a few cigarettes, some mushroom-infused tea, a guitar and Charles Bukowski poetry.
A teenager working a summer job cluelessly stumbles into one of their especially heated discussions and, after a while, becomes their unlikely friend. Evan (Samuel Checo) is a charming high school kid who is just beginning to figure himself out. With Jasper and KJ’s help, he is exposed to art, music, literature and intellectual conversation — all behind the coffee shop. Checo’s brilliant depiction of the naiveté that comes with being young and impressionable carries the play through even the darkest of moments.
Even though he highlights the age difference (about 10 years) between him and his two “mentors” with inexperience, he levels the playing field with his blatant honesty and loyalty. When he joins them in watching fireworks on July 4, they all become kids enthralled by the twinkling lights in the sky.
This is what theater does: It puts us all on the same level. We are all watching, obeying the rules, keeping quiet, and all the while a reflection of wonders of the world happen before our eyes. This play highlighted those questions we all have about existing and never really knowing all the answers even as we grow up.
Though it may sound like a “hippie” narrative that condones bad behavior, this play presents the kind of story that sticks with you long after you’ve left the theater. It plays like a French film: full of pauses and short, passing glimpses into the lives of a few ordinary people and ultimately leaving audiences with a desire for philosophical discourse.