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Play speaks to the hopeless jobless

by Lenise Willis

 lenise@yesweekly.com

When I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009 I was given exclaims of congratulations mottled with accompanying apologies. When most graduates see a horizon of possibilities, my graduating class met with the worst recession the US had seen since the Great Depression. Since then my Lost Generation has continued to forge the disparaging job field and meander aimlessly.

Speaking to today’s generation of wandering souls is hot new playwright Annie Baker in her play The Aliens, which earned her an OBIE Award for Best New American Play in 2010.

“[The Aliens] story is beautiful,” said Amy da Luz, co-founder of Paper Lantern Theatre Company, which will perform the production beginning this weekend.

“I’ve read a lot of plays and when they stick with me, when I can’t stop thinking about them, when I’m wondering about the characters the next day, I know I’m on to something. And that’s what happened to me with this play. It’s also a very relevant story.”

The three-character play depicts two thirtysomethingss who are smart, but unemployed and without direction.

“I know people like that and I think we all do,” da Luz added, pointing out that the play fits perfectly in their fifth season’s theme, “Through the Cracks.”

“Our season is about people like that — that fall through the cracks,” da Luz said. “But, as Annie Baker’s play shows us, these people have something to say. They have a story to tell, and we would be wise to listen and learn.”

“And it’s funny,” da Luz added with a light-hearted laugh. The story takes place in a back alley behind a small-town New England coffeeshop, where Jasper (Josh Foldy) and KJ (Sterling Hurst), two thirtyomething slackers, who used to be in a band called the Aliens, pontificate on music, philosophy and Bukowski.

As KJ sips ’shroom-laced tea and acoustic guitar riffs fill the air, he and Jasper write novels and music the world will never see or hear.

“Sterling [pretends to be on ‘shrooms] really well,” Foldy said with a laugh. “I don’t know what he’s doing ultimately to portray that, but he does a great job at it. He fulfills that stereotype that all slacker kids do drugs.”

The mood changes when awkward Evan (Owen Hickle-Edwards), a coffeeshop employee, asks them to leave and ends up being the protégé for which they’ve been waiting.

“These people are such an odd combination, and little Evan, who is the heart and soul of the play, has the biggest heart and comes out a whole different person, and we get to watch him do that. It’s funny but at the same time very touching.

“It’s a very quiet play. It catches you off guard. “It’s a good fit for us,” added da Luz, who is also the costume designer. “It’s a new play by a hot, young new playwright. And it just so happens she’s female. It’s great new material that I don’t think the Triad’s going to see otherwise.”

A relatively young theatre founded in 2009, Paper Lantern Theatre Company has made it its mission to produce Triad premiers of contemporary works by today’s hottest, award-winning playwrights.

Da Luz says what she especially loves about Baker is her natural prose, her distinct and relatable voice, and her unique ability to remain invisible as an author, meaning the reader feels closer to the dialogue and characters.

“Her work is deft and subtle, but leaves you reeling,” da Luz said. “It’s a challenging play,” said Foldy (Triad Stage, Billy Bishop Goes to War). “It asks a lot of the audience because so much of it takes place in silence. And that’s not everyone’s normal experience in the theater anymore, or in any form of popular entertainment where we’re bombarded.

“One thing that this play does is it asks the question, ‘Can you settle down and have a deeper experience in silence?’”

WANNA go?

Paper Lantern Theater Company’s production of The Aliens runs this Thursday through Jan. 27 in the Triad Stage’s UpStage Cabaret, 232 S. Elm St., Third Floor. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 general admission. For tickets or more information call the TS box office at 336.272.0160, or visit www.paperlanterntheatre.com.

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