FORT WORTH When the set is the best thing in the show, you know you are in trouble.
“The Aliens,” the three-character drama at Stage West, has so little going on with it that it is difficult to even explain what it is about. Some plays are about laughter. Some plays are about passion. This one is about two hours.
The action (stretching that term beyond the breaking point) unfolds in the present, behind a New England coffee shop. That locale is a home-away-from-home for two slackers in their late-twenties, Jasper and KJ (Joey Folsom and Jake Buchanan, respectively). They are rudderless crafts which have haphazardly crashed on the shores of the coffee house. The title refers to one of the many names they chose for a band which, like all of their dreams and aspirations, never got off the ground.
Their consistent presence is an unwelcome surprise to Evan (Parker Gray), a high school-age barista who has been told that the area is for staff only. He initially fears the pair as much as he fears losing his job for allowing them to be there.
But Evan eventually comes under the sway of the older men. He tries to imitate their self-destructive lifestyles by taking up cigarette smoking, among other things. If this play is about anything, it is about Evan making bad choices for mentors as he stumbles toward adulthood.
And that’s about it. There is one event that should not be revealed here, which would be major in most plays. But in this long day’s journey into boredom, it does not have much impact at all.
The direction by Dana Schultes milks the script’s pauses (and there are sure lots of those) to accentuate the tedium of the characters’ lives. But that turns out to be a case of punishing the audience for the sins of the play’s author, Annie Baker. This material desperately needs to be sped up, not slowed down.
The acting is in good shape in this production. Gray does an especially nice job with his timid and awkward character. But it is hard to say much about the other performances since there is just a 50-50 chance you will see the same lineup I saw. For some reason, Folsom and Buchanan alternate their roles. Folsom will be play Jasper on the Thursdays and Saturdays, and KJ on Fridays and Sundays. Buchanan will do the opposite.
I can’t see how that could possibly make any difference.
But then there’s the set. Outdoor areas are especially hard to do, but N. Ryan McBride does an outstanding job with the humble, garbage can-strewn lot that is Jasper and KJ’s refuge. It is highly detailed and realistic. Best thing in the show, without a doubt.