Annie Baker is a rising star in the theater world, if you can call someone who has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama — as Baker did for The Flick in 2014 — “rising.”
Her prize winner is currently running at Off-Broadway’s Barrow Street Theater, and theaters around the country are producing her earlier works such as Circle Mirror Transformation (Area Stage in Coral Gables plans to present it in January), Body Awareness (Fort Lauderdale’s Island City Stage has already produced it) and The Aliens. That last one has just opened at Barry University’s Pelican Theatre as the first show in Alliance Theatre’s 10th anniversary season.
The Aliens takes its name from a poem by Charles Bukowski, the late novelist-poet-short story writer revered by one (maybe two) of the characters in Baker’s play. In the poem, Bukowski draws a distinction between contented people who “go through life with very little friction or distress” and himself: “I am not one of them,” he writes.
Nor are KJ and Jasper, two guys in the vicinity of 30 who haven’t managed to get their adult lives started in any meaningful way. KJ (Carlos Alayeto) is a college dropout, while Jasper (Daniel Gil) didn’t make it through high school. They’re buds who hang out behind a Vermont coffee shop, sometimes singing songs from the band they never got off the ground or named, talking about the women in their lives (KJ’s New Age mom or the girlfriend who has just dumped Jasper), imagining scenarios that are highly unlikely to come true.
Evan (Kristian Bikic), a soon-to-be high school senior working a summer job at the coffee shop, stumbles into the unofficial KJ-Jasper club house when he takes out the trash. The 17-year-old is jittery, as his manager has told him only employees are allowed back there. But resistance is futile. KJ and Jasper may not have much in the way of jobs or lives, but hanging out is what they do, and behind the coffee shop is where they do it. Period.
Some of Baker’s work has been described as Chekhovian — the characters are vividly drawn, yet not much happens — and The Aliens certainly falls into that category. Silences, pauses, numb staring are all woven into the fabric of the play, which doesn’t make for terribly compelling theater, at least as The Aliens is intially realized by director Adalberto J. Acevedo and his talented trio of actors.
Eventually, two things — one romantic, one tragic — do happen offstage. But it’s often a slog getting to that point, as Alayeto’s KJ croons his dormant band’s unimpressive songs, Gil’s Jasper reads aloud from his novel-in-progress and Bikic’s Evan picks up life “wisdom” from two guys who don’t have a lot of it.
Baker’s writing is certainly observant, amusing and sobering. KJ is a damaged guy who can be charismatic (if a bit scary) when he’s in a manic phase. Jasper seems to have talent, but a lack of focus and drive (and a weakness for other things) derails him. Evan, immensely watchable as played by Bikic, is both a kid who argues with his mom and an almost-grownup who grins over a recent rite of passage at summer camp.
The Aliens is not, like Baker’s The Flick, three hours long. But watching alienated youth sitting around talking makes the play’s running time feel longer than it is.
If you go
What: ‘The Aliens’ by Annie Baker.
Where: Alliance Theatre production at Barry University’s Pelican Theatre, 11300 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores.
When: 8 p.m. Thurssday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 4.
Cost: $30 ($25 seniors, $15 students).
Information: 786-587-0372 or www.thealliancetheatrelab.com.