UNCC's First Theater Production of the Season Highlights the Humanity of Its Characters
The evening sun is beginning to set and an October chill fills the air. In the Robinson Hall courtyard, people sit in folding chairs in front of the newly constructed stage. It is the perfect setting for UNCC’s first theater production of the season, Annie Baker’s “The Aliens.” The show originally premiered Off-Broadway in 2010 and won the Obie Award for Best New Play. However, UNCC has chosen to take the production outside. The set showcases an alley behind a coffeeshop complete with a picnic table and dumpsters. By bringing the show outside, the creators throw the audience out of their comfort zone. It eliminates the barrier between audience and actor, we are up close and personal with the show.
For the record, “The Aliens” is not actually about aliens. Instead, the plot centers around two men, Jasper (Tykiique Cuthkelvin) and KJ (Chester Wolfaardt), who spend their time talking and sitting behind a coffee shop. Jasper never finished high school and is an aspiring novelist and KJ dropped out of college. They met years ago and started a band. One of it’s many names? The Aliens. We then meet Evan (Kobina Fon-Ndikum), a high school student working at the coffee shop. Awkward and inexperienced, he begins to form a friendship with the two men.
The plot centers completely and totally on the bonds between these three characters. The dialogue is slow, wandering and sometimes seemingly about nothing. A good portion of the show is spent in silence, in the pauses of conversations. But that’s the beauty in it. “The Aliens” takes what may seem mundane or uninteresting and draws the audience in. We want to see more, know more and hear more about the characters. The audience feels all the intense emotions as well; we laugh at the awkward pauses and odd songs. We listen intently to Jasper’s novel and we are heartbroken when the events of Act Two take a turn for the worse. It all feels overwhelmingly real.
In order to pull this hard task off, the cast must be enormously talented. Put simply, they are. Cuthkelvin’s Jasper is brooding and angsty, struggling to understand his place in the world. Jasper believes himself a genius and the fact he doesn’t quite know what to do with that burdens shows. Wolfaardt as KJ is his polar opposite; he is over the top, loud, and often under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms. He’s mostly the comedic side of the duo, though Act 2 allows Wolfaardt’s dramatic side to really shine. The two actors play off each other extremely well and it’s easy for the audience to believe that they have been friends for years.
However, it’s Fon-Ndikum’s Evan that really speaks to the audience. His character, an outsider to the two friends, is the lens we ultimately view KJ and Jasper through. Awkward, confused, and a little lonely, he begins to accept the two as friends. As the audience watches, he begins to be changed by them, picking up their habits and interests. By Act Two, a conversation about windfarms between Evan and KJ directly mirrors the same conversation between Jasper and KJ from Act One. It’s a profound statement on how we are influenced and changed by our connections with others.
If you like plays, “The Aliens” is one I’d highly recommend. It’s simple, yet beautiful. It showcases the humanity in the characters and reflects back on the humanity in us. Overall, it’s an excellent way to spend an evening. The show continues next weekend with performances on the 20-22 at 6pm and the 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for seniors, and $12 for faculty, staff and alumni. All others are $18. They are available at the door in the box office or online.