Where: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St.
When: through March 3
If you think of Annie Baker’s “The Aliens” as a trio of interconnected character studies, the two-hour-long Chicago premiere at A Red Orchid Theatre may be tolerable. But if you’re expecting a play with anything resembling a compelling plot, forget it.
Replete with gratuitous silences and grating repetitions that prolong the running time, Baker’s work focuses on a pair of thirtyish slackers who hang out all summer near the dumpsters behind a Vermont coffee shop. Between K.J.’s (Brad Akin) sips of psychedelic ’shroom tea and Jasper’s (Steve Haggard) drags on smokes, they talk about their artistic aspirations, dashed hopes, love lives, musical preferences, philosophies, friendships and a whole lot more including the many names of their one-time band (complete with list). The main action involves Evan (Michael Finley), the 17-year-old barista who initially comes out to shoo them away from the staff-only retreat but gradually becomes an acolyte of sorts, romanticizing the perpetual-loiterer lifestyle and imitating his new idols. They at first laugh at him but, perhaps moved by his persistent admiration, extend themselves bit by bit to befriend him.
Given Shade Murray’s sensitive direction and the solid acting – Finley’s ultra-shy, tentative Evan contrasts nicely with Akin’s wacko K.J. and Haggard’s more measured Jasper – this might make an entertaining hour-long one act, especially since some of it is rather amusing. However, Baker throws a wrench into the proceedings with a sudden, unexpected tragedy that’s insufficiently motivated and hard to take seriously. She may be reminding us that anything can happen to anyone at any time, but the message would mean more if we cared about the characters.
Of special note: It’s about time! The League of Chicago Theatres, in partnership with Choose Chicago, is presenting the first annual Chicago Theatre Week, Feb. 12-17, with a kick-off party Feb. 11. Scores of participating theaters are offering $15 or $30 tickets to more than 100 productions, and special perks and events range from post-show discussions to restaurant discounts. For all the details, go to chicagotheatreweek.com.