The Aliens

Old Fitz Theatre, August 27

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Jeremy Waters as Jasper, James Bell as Evan and Ben Wood as KJ. Photo: Rupert Reid.

You can’t get closer to the action than the Old Fitz’s front row. The actors brush your trouser cuffs and you breathe their cigarette smoke. In such proximity any gaps in the truth would be gaping fissures, magnified further by the extravagant silences that punctuate Annie Baker’s play.

The script dictates that over a third of the performance should be silence, leaving the actors great swathes of time to fill as their characters wait, react and ponder.

Yet between Baker’s text and the Old Fitz’s intimacy there is no room for “acting”: the actors must be. Anything less and they will founder in those interminable (yet often eloquent) pauses. That is if they have not already been exposed by Baker’s lines, with their faltering, distracted starts and stops, dissonant overlaps and sometimes infuriating hyper-naturalism (“like” and “cool” dominating the vocabulary).

Director Craig Baldwin (for Outhouse Theatre Co) and his actors have grasped that beneath Baker’s patchwork of pauses, expletives, repetitions, inanities and humour lie little profundities about the way we – especially we males – interact: what we hide, what we reveal, and what we think we hide.

Jeremy Waters as Jasper, Ben Wood as his friend KJ and James Bell as the younger, teenaged Evan leave not so much as a hairline crack in the truth, into which you gradually feel yourself being absorbed. And that’s despite the smallness of their limbo-lives (even if Jasper is writing a novel) and the mediocrity of their musical endeavours (the play’s name coming from Jasper and KY’s putative band).

In fact Baldwin’s production is next to flawless in performance terms, adeptly supported by Hugh O’Connor’s design and Ben Brockman’s lighting. The shortcoming is structural, with Baker eliminating her most interesting character, the super-intense Jasper, too soon. The hole he leaves is not easily filled, but then nor is it in the hearts of the obsessive KJ and the shy, innocent, eager Evan. A deeper question is whether hyper-naturalism is theatre’s best solution.

Until September 19.