Last weekend, Cap and Bells put on its final show of the year, a double feature of two plays, The Art of Remembering, directed by Sallie Lau ’15 and The Aliens, directed by Chris Gay ’13.
The night began with The Art of Remembering, a play written by Adina L. Ruskin that follows a young woman as she leafs through old letters and looks at keepsakes and reminisces about her experiences. The set was bare, with only a storage chest in the center of the stage.
Three actresses portray the different sides of the main character Rebecca (Haley Eagon ’13). There is Rebecca and her alter egos Reba (Melissa Soule ’15) and Becky (Paige Peterkin ’16). The actresses also in turn portray the different characters that are explored in Rebecca’s memories. It would not be surprising if you as a reader find this confusing – I struggled to catch onto this concept for the majority of the play, having been unfamiliar with the premise beforehand.
The Art of Remembering begins with Rebecca kneeling in front of the chest, exploring the contents, as Reba and Becky sit a few feet behind her, respectively to the left and right. The three actresses name different places in succession: the settings of the memories to be explored. The play continues by exposing vignettes from her life, including listening to her grandmother’s stories, interacting with a woman who sat down next to her on a plane.
The vignettes were short, yet they were interrupted by the beginning or continuation of another memory. The interruptions added a certain drama in the beginning, as the lights were blackened and a spotlight hit a different actress, signaling a shift in the story. However, over time, the abrupt scene changes made the play seem disjointed.
Rebecca’s experiences were clearly meant to resonate emotionally with the audience. While many memories were indeed sad, like the woman on the plane talking about her experience in World War II or her grandmother telling her own story about her emigratation from Poland to the U.S. at age 13, at times they felt cliché because none were fully explored. With the abrupt shifts, there was not enough time to either absorb characters’ emotions or truly sympathize with them. In the end, the poignancy that the play attempted to convey was lost amongst the choppy storyline.
The three actresses, however, gave powerful performances, all having a great talent for telling stories, managing what they could without a cohesive plotline. The actresses seamlessly adopted new characters by modifying their manner of speaking, tone and moods with every scene change and new memory – helpful cues to the lost audience members such as myself. However, they were not enough to save the show. The play itself was not very compelling.
The second play, The Aliens, was an incredible production featuring both a talented cast and compelling storyline. The play, written by Annie Baker, follows Jasper (Ben Hoyle ’15) and A.J. (Connor Lawhorn ’16), two wanderlust adults in their 30s and Evan (Joseph Baca ’15), a socially awkward teenager.
The Aliens is set outside a coffeehouse. The stage, while not as spare as the first performance, remained simple: a picnic table on the left, a few metal lawn chairs and a stool on the right, with a wooden fence and some garbage cans in the background.
The play begins with silence. A.J., clearly under the influence of drugs, lies on the picnic table, with his arms and legs dangling off the edges. Jasper is deep in thought, sitting on the right. A.J. finally breaks the silence by singing and tries to start some light hearted conversation. Jasper, annoyed, kicks over a stool, prompting Evan, a newly employed waiter, to investigate while taking out the trash.
The first interaction of the characters sets a promising tone for the rest of the show. Bacca’s incredible delivery and comedic timing brought laughs as he mumbled, perfectly conveying his character Evan’s desperation and shyness as he tries to get A.J. and Jasper to leave. Hoyle played a cool Jasper who smooth talks Evan, trying to convince him there is nothing to worry about. Lawhorn portrayed an affable A.J. who eases the tension with his easygoing personality.
Although the play begins on a very humorous note, The Aliens proves to be a remarkably moving story about friendship, change and the complexity of personalities. While Jasper seems to have the angst of a teenager, venting about a recent rough breakup with his girlfriend, he is at the same time an exceptional writer working seriously on a novel. A.J., despite being childlike and never fully present, is a University of Vermont dropout who was going to be a calculus and philosophy double major. The two of them forever change Evan’s life, showing him how to be open, relax and enjoy life, while struggling to manage their own lives.
The play is not all fun and games, however, and when tragedy strikes and the lives of all three characters are forever changed. But The Aliens does not end on a despairing note. Instead, it sends a message of hope and conveys the universal wish to take control over one’s future, which moved audience members to feel truly a full spectrum of emotions.