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February 27, 2014

Three man show brings 'blatant simplicity' to Dobama Theatre

By Patricia Gramoy

Enjoying "The Aliens" is much like eating a raw oyster – it needs to be savored before swallowing.

Only then can its intriguing texture, peculiar flavor and blatant simplicity be truly appreciated.

Obie Award-winning Annie Baker’s play, on stage at Dobama Theatre in Cleveland Hts., is about two slackers who hang around the back alley area of coffee shop…and do little else.  Amidst plastic chairs, a dumpster and a picnic table strategically arranged by scenic designer, Aaron Benson and lighting designer Marcus Dana, Jasper (Matt O’Shea) and KJ (Alexander V. Thompson) smoke, chat, look at the stars and stare into space.  

One afternoon, Jasper and KJ befriend a new coffee shop employee – an awkward young high school student named Evan (Joseph Dunn) – and decide to take him under their bent and flightless wing. 

It is easy to write off this play as little more than a two-act exercise in inactivity.  Even its director Nathan Motta admits that he dismissed the play the first time he read it. Yet, there’s something about Baker’s characters that are haunting. Her writing stays remarkably true to the nature of people and her characters are real.  Very real.  The silences are long and uncomfortable. The dialogue between Jasper and KJ is exactly that of two people who are so completely comfortable with each other that they don’t need to say much.  Which they don’t.   

Over time and with a bit of patience, you are made aware of just how intelligent this trio is, the obstacles each of them have succumbed to to become who they are, and the beauty of their existence.  Initially, Baker makes the audience feel like the obtrusive outsides in the company of these unwashed, invisible outcasts.  But slowly, precisely and without drama, we see who they are and learn to enjoy the company we are keeping. 

O’Shea, Thompson and Dunn have the skills and the chemistry to pull this off with remarkable success.   

"The Aliens" serves up a plate of raw oysters ready for consumption.  Dig in.

Dobama Theatre is at 2340 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights.  For tickets, which are $10–26, call 216-932-3396 or visit www.dobama.org.

(Submission from COM 327 - Media Criticism).