Review: SUDS' The Aliens


Review: SUDS' The Aliens

Emma Hayman

There are only three characters in The Aliens. Set entirely in the back alleyway of a coffee shop in Vermont, nothing much happens either. That, however, is entirely the point in this play punctuated by silence.  

And the silence is disorienting, forcing us to consider the vast disjunct between the Cellar Theatre and the world outside it. The actors perform it well, however, with well-timed dialogue that ensures the silence is far from ‘awkward’– instead it’s raw and evocative, and lends a pronounced poignancy to the performance.

Directed by Max Peacock, The Aliens is a vignette into the lives of KJ (Georgia Condon) and Jasper (Henry Hulme) — two self-described geniuses who haunt the space between the alleyway’s trash cans and broken fences. They meet Evie (Sophia Bryant), a timid new employee at the coffee shop, and welcome her into their sanctuary, filled with endless musings and unfulfilled dreams.

On Evie’s first appearance, she’s an observer to the strange world of KJ and Jaspar. Bryant plays the awkward outsider well, adding slight changes of mannerisms to her character as she became a member of the alleyway to provide depth where her character could have easily been stereotyped as naïve and one-dimensional. Bryant introduces a refreshing normalcy, against which KJ and Jaspar’s existence appears ever more anxious as the audience witnesses their longing for compassion and intimacy that forms the basis of their dependence on each other.

This cycle of anxiety and dependence is depicted with surprising realism, thanks to strong performances of mental health struggles from Condon and Hulme. It’s no small feat of the director to make their idiosyncrasies as telling as their dialogue — Hulme’s Jaspar, the quieter, protective character of the group, chainsmokes to deal with his deteriorating mental state, while Condon’s KJ opts for psychedelic escapism to re-engage with youth. Along with Bryant, they certainly rise to the occasion demanded by the small cast, and their on-stage chemistry makes the characters' apparent but subtle dependence on each other believable where it could otherwise seem trite.

In one scene, Evie creeps in to the alleyway and sits apprehensively on the trashcan as Jaspar reads his novel’s manuscript. Jaspar gives her a small smile and welcoming nod as she enters. KJ notices her later, and Condon delivers an seemingly out-of-character energetic performance, jumping with shock then bounding around the stage in excitement to Evie’s attendance. It’s slightly verbose, but the reactions contrast well, not just with each other, but the overtures of the play itself.

For a play that relies on a nuanced performance of dialogue and representation of character, the use of American accents was, at times, restrictive on the performers’ natural expression. However, the actors’ overall consistency in strength and emotional resonance creates an audience-character connection which is vital for continued engagement in such a plot-thin work.

The set design, too, is simple but effective, and the lighting deserves special praise in a tender Fourth of July fireworks showing at the end of Act I. The genderblind casting of both Bryant and Condon, as well as Peacock’s decision to lower the age of KJ and Jaspar, further adds to the show’s relevance in context.

The Aliens is hardly the world that graces our Instagram feeds and Facebook albums. It is rather a humble and muted representation of the gritty, unspoken struggle of youth. Don’t be deceived by the play’s name– with its emotional display of friendship, loss and loneliness, The Aliens is far from otherworldly, but rather universal and powerfully relevant.

The Aliens is on at the Cellar Theatre until Saturday March 31. 

ReviewEmma Hayman