The premise is simple. Four citizens are brought to an underground government facility in New Mexico (Roswell anyone?) to determine whether any of them are aliens. That would be the outer space variety.
We are first introduced to Leona Wiggins, the program administrator, and her befuddled new assistant who has been assigned to her as a form of community service for nude jaywalking. Ok. So far we’ve got dark and quirky. The four detainees arrive in handcuffs and we’re off! Unfortunately, we’re off to… where? After the obligatory protestations and getting-to-know-you’s (not always friendly) from the detainees, the play really begins.
There is some vague reference to a test to be given that will let us know if any of the characters are actually aliens. The test seems to involve music that sounds a bit like a bad Elvis Costello cover.
With the help of the aforementioned assistant who seems to have a gift for encouraging people to share their stories by simply being quiet and listening, the characters, through song and dialogue, begin to give us their back-stories. The problem is, though the circumstances of the backgrounds should be compelling (plenty of drama to go around), as written they just aren’t. As an audience member, I wanted to get behind them all, but at the end of each tale, I was left thinking, “And?”
The plot is far too loose and disjointed. Themes seem to pop up and then get thrown away. Is this about the government doing nefarious things to its citizens? Is it about humanity in that people need their stories to be heard to become who they really are? Maybe we are all alien in our own way? I couldn’t tell.
I can’t fault one of the actors for a single misstep. They all worked with the material they were given flawlessly. April Armstrong as Leona the administrator is funny, abrupt and matter-of-fact about her rather bizarre assignment. She chats on the phone to a co-worker about the work in the casual, catty, amusing way she might talk about a mutual acquaintance with a bad haircut or questionable significant other. As it turns out, she also has an absolutely glorious singing voice.
The detainees are equally engaging. Akyiaa Wilson as Dolly gives a funny, sad, erudite portrayal of a bright, confused, possibly alcoholic woman. Gavin Price as Bo is an extremely addled and lost bull rider with a couple of skeletons in his closet. Anthony R. Brown is Horace, a beleaguered postal worker with a wife with MS he’s anxious to return to. Don Castro as the bewildered bathroom-cleaning assistant is perhaps the most endearing of them all. Courtney Williams has her hands full with a character that, even given her circumstances, is just not likeable. This is a young woman constantly looking for a fight without ever letting us know why.
The set is stark. There is the suggestion of an office. The lighting is also stark, which works well. The bathroom, projected anytime someone goes in it, figures heavily. For those of you planning to see the play, no need to be squeamish there. Also, you’ll want to keep an eye on the piano player. But those eye-catching, whimsical costumes by Parker Lutz, revealed at crucial moments, are well worth the wait.
The frustrating thing in watching this play is that I didn’t lament the fact that it was written, just that it wasn’t written more tightly and, well, better. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. I’m giving it three stars on the strength of the performers.