The Aliens, in Annie Baker’s new play, was a hypothetical name for a band that never really existed. Such tenuous relationships with real life are Baker’s subjects: The Aliens—now at the Rattlestick, directed by Sam Gold—turns the travails of two Vermont slackers into an eloquent, if occasionally predictable, meditation on creativity and time’s passage.
KJ and Jasper—UVM and high school dropouts, respectively—construct their own institution of higher learning behind a coffee joint, with Charles Bukowski as patron saint and shroom tea as their beverage of choice. Jasper declaims from his unfinished novel, while KJ improvises ditties—unsolved calculus equations set to inconclusive melodies. When Evan—a hyper-nervous teen with a summer gig peddling java—stumbles onto their turf, a faltering coming-of-age drama ensues.
Andrew Lieberman’s claustrophobic set hems us in with the dudes’ angst, trapped between cinderblocks, trash cans, and recycling bins. An exhaust fan spins listlessly, mocking the duo’s endless mental perambulations. Gold expertly choreographs a study in stillness; when one character vanishes, the catastrophe registers as another silence.
Baker has a way with post-20s panic and wry banter, ironies that rescue her hopeful ending from cliché. “You’re gonna go far,” KJ tells Evan—neither one moving at all.