Play: “Intelligent Life”
Group: HotCity Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters Building, 501 North Grand
Dates: May 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 314-289-4063 or www.hotcitytheatre.org
Story: The truth is out there, as “The X Files” stated categorically at the beginning of each episode that dealt with extraterrestrials or just weird monsters running amok on planet Earth. And Robin, leader of a motley group self-described as the “Utah Alien Chasers,” has fervently devoted her life to finding evidence that visitors from outer space walk among us or at least drop by from time to time.
It’s a largely thankless and unfulfilling job, though, as Robin struggles to survive on menial wages to pay for a basement office in a Utah tenant house, surrounded by non-believers, ne’er-do-wells and hangers-on. Once and future lover Beau doesn’t seem to have much ambition for anything except getting in Robin’s way while he passes time with his Hooters girlfriend Jessie. The other familiar face in this erratic ensemble is Gary, an older man whose alcoholism has banished him from the home he shared with his wife and 12-year-old daughter.
After a night of stumbling and staggering about, Gary and Beau bring back to the basement a prized possession: A real-life alien who looks a lot like a little boy dressed in a dinosaur costume. When they tell Robin what’s hidden in their closet, she takes a leap of faith that at long last she has proof that will validate her quest and propel her to a life of achievement among the celestial stars.
Highlights: Playwright Lauren Dusek Albonico first wrote this two-act comedy while a student at Washington University. A finalist for HotCity’s 2009 Greenhouse New Play Festival, it is making its world premiere in a production directed by HotCity associate director Annamaria Pileggi. HotCity’s focus is on “contemporary programming and new play development,” and this quirky work fits the bill nicely
Other Info: While the premise of “Intelligent Life” is intriguing, it’s crucial for an audience to keep in mind the play’s title. Just as Bones McCoy regularly would tell Captain Kirk of “Star Trek” that “There’s no intelligent life on this planet,” so too do Gary, Beau and Jesse display a stunning lack of brain power. When contrasted with the genius IQ of young Aethan, that can be humorous, but there’s also cruelty in these characters, particularly Beau, that is more venal than amusing. As a result, the mood of “Intelligent Life” switches from comic to tragic in its second act, with the resultant consequences.
Pileggi coaxes convincing performances out of her highly capable ensemble, and moves the show along quickly enough to almost avoid some of the annoyingly problematic plot elements (such as why two grown men would continue to keep a 10-year-old boy kidnapped, even if he enjoys the break from his life as a genius with amazing abilities that perplex his abductors). There’s far too much interlude between scenes, however, which only exacerbates various plot problems.
There’s excellent work by Aarya Sara Locker as Robin, a woman who desperately needs faith in something to elevate her humdrum existence. A scene when Robin is tranquilized is particularly funny as Locker contorts her voice and mouth in Robin’s agitated state.
Kevin Beyer once again delivers a precisely etched interpretation of a muddled man with plenty of foibles. In one of the many narrative asides uttered by the characters to the audience a la “The Office,” Beyer offers a poignant appraisal of Gary’s life that reached its nadir when he showed up drunk at his daughter’s birthday party. He’s equally adept at the broad comedy inherent in Gary’s confused condition.
Young Parker Donovan shows a nimble and comfortable grasp of his character’s possibilities and proves himself just as capable as his older colleagues. Emily Fisher and Scott Schneider have their moments as the Hooters waitress and the unambitious Beau, respectively, but Schneider is limited with what he can do with such an unsavory part. Alan McClintock completes the cast as a bullish police officer apprehending the kidnapping suspects.
Otis Sweezey’s set design is an amusing mishmash of decrepit furniture and a collection of appropriate knickknacks such as a “Star Wars” poster and an alien mobile hanging from the ceiling, and Michael Sullivan’s lighting accentuates Aethan’s remarkable talents to affect electricity. Jane Sullivan’s costumes emphasize the depressing squalor of the “Utah Alien Chasers,” while Matt Koch’s sound design incorporates familiar chords from such sci-fi favorites as “Alien,” “Star Wars” and “The X Files” to set the mood.
Albonico’s script is clever and cunning much of the time, and with some fine-tuning, particularly with Beau’s character, could make for an even more interesting observation about the human beings whom extraterrestrials must find quite puzzling.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.