The Column Online



by Annie Baker

Stage West

Directed by Dana Schultes
Set Design: N. Ryan McBride
Lighting Design: Bryan Stevenson
Sound Design: John Flores
Costume Design: Garret Storms
Dialect Coach: Joe Alberti
Props and Set Décor: Lynn Lovett
Production Stage Manager: Mark Shum

Jake Buchanan: KJ
Joey Folsom: Jasper
Parker Gray: Evan

Reviewed Performance: 5/6/2017

Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Life has deep meaning, and those that contemplate it can get caught up in the evaluation. Such was the backdrop for Aliens at Stage West. Aliens features only three actors, each of whom has aspects of life to ponder. Two of them, KJ and Jasper, frequently do so in a dingy lot behind the coffee shop where Evan works.

The action begins with KJ and Jasper providing a glimpse into their existence. When Evan meets them, the rest of the story unfolds with the two men providing young Evan with a few life lessons. The script, styled by Annie Baker, reflects the mundanities of the average, everyday life, but tucks moments of insight and introspection into the weaving of the story. The actors in the production at Stage West depicted the droll existence of the trio with expertise. The entire team of designers and crew and their attention to detail provided a visual effect that complemented the strength of the actors impeccably. The set by N. Ryan McBride was masterfully designed. The entirety of the action takes place behind a somewhat rundown coffee shop in Vermont. McBride designed a set which included so much attention to detail, with the back of the coffee shop stage right and a bit of a junkyard stage left. The floor of the entire stage was covered in dirt which somehow managed to both stay put and send clouds of dust in the air when the actors kicked it, without meandering into the theater space. The building that housed the coffee shop was brick, with a beautiful piece of graffiti, painted by Krystal Smith, adorning the back wall. The back of the set was outlined by a ragged wood privacy fence. The set décor, strewn about by props master, Lynn Lovett, was exactly what was needed to detail the view. I was especially impressed by the obviously intentional selection of each piece that was lying around the set.

Lighting design by Bryan Stevenson was beautiful and enhanced the entire experience. Alternating colors depicted various times of day. The casting of leafy shadows across the set to depict dusk/evening times was perfectly done. The grand moment that displayed the talents of Stevenson was during a scene that included the suggestion of fireworks. While an actor held a real, lit sparkler, the colors and timing of the lights playing off the actors’ faces made me want to turn around to watch the fireworks myself.

Sound design by John Flores was so well done; I almost didn’t realize it existed. The ambient noises one would expect to hear in an outdoor scene were so masterfully chosen, it took until the second act for my brain to realize I wasn’t hearing noise from outside the theater! The music played from time to time was recorded by the actors, in keeping with their characters, who had performed as a band (with several names, including The Aliens).

Costume design by Garret Storms adorned the actors in exactly the clothing the play called for. KJ, who was portrayed by Jack Buchanan, often wore torn, dingy jeans, t-shirts, and ladies strappy sandals, which fit the eccentric character perfectly. Jasper, the brooding writer, played by Joey Folsom, wore hipster-inspired clothing, including skinny jeans, button-down shirts, and a knit, beany hat or rebellious curly locks adorning his head.

The three actors worked well together as they revealed the essence of the message Baker sought to deliver with her script. The director, Dana Schultes, brought together a trio that were so well suited to their roles and with such expertise, that a decision was made at some point to have Buchanan and Folsom alternate roles throughout the run, depending on the day of the week. These two demonstrated their finesse to the extent that I’m intrigued and interested in seeing the performance on a day when they have switched roles. The two were so immersed in the roles I witnessed, that I would guess they have brought unique perspectives into these characters and would create an entirely different experience when those characters are switched.

On the evening I attended, Jake Buchanan portrayed KJ, a thirtyish college dropout who lives with his mother. The depth to which Buchanan took on this role resulted in a truly mesmerizing delivery of every line and movement. Buchanan alternately lounged and sauntered in a way that suggested an amusement with life, although the dialogue betrayed a troubled life. The times when the script was painfully realistic to life, and the actors sat in silence on the set, Buchanan’s command of each moment continued to tell a story, sans words.

In the same way that Buchanan embraced the role of KJ, Folsom’s depiction of Jasper was dark and moody. With each strong frown etched across his face and angry flicks of his cigarette, which was real and lightly filled the air with the smell of smoke, Folsom’s portrayal suggested a cacophony of thoughts inside his head throughout the action. As he glided across the stage, he gave Jasper a confidence that commanded attention. The timing of the delivery of each line was perfect. Together with Buchanan, Folsom skillfully played his guitar and sang a song by The Aliens, and which was also a part of the play’s soundtrack. The delivery of this performance was believable on all levels – it was easy to imagine the pair in a band together.

Rounding out the threesome of cast members, Parker Gray portrayed the young coffee shop worker; Evan. Gray expertly handled the role, which was that of a teenager, without the cliché mannerisms adult actors often utilize. Parker also demonstrated the depth to which he had embraced the character. The use of mannerisms that seemed habitual to the character, and a strong New England dialect consistent throughout the play showed his expertise and talent. In fact, all three actors had a consistent dialogue with the help of dialect coach, Joe Alberti. My favorite scene to exemplify Gray’s talent was at the climax of the play, when Gray rolled through emotions with split second accuracy, moving between disbelief, terror, sadness, panic, and everything in between as if he were playing a practiced symphony on the piano. For a few minutes, precision and chaos simultaneously existed in the person of Evan, and it was a fascinating display resulting from the acting prowess of Parker Gray.

All three actors were beautiful examples of the level to which an audience can expect an opening night to unfold. There were no errors visible to the eye, no dropped lines apparent to the ear, and the crew carried out their responsibilities perfectly. I cannot say enough to convey the delightful perfection of this production. It is a must-see, whether you are simply interested in the story, or looking for exemplar technical theater. See it twice to experience the Folsom/Buchanan switch.

Stage West
821 West Vickery Boulevard
Fort Worth, Texas

Plays through June 4th

Thursdays at 7:00 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sunday matinee at 3:00 pm

Tickets are $31 on Thursdays and Sundays (Seniors 65+/Military $25), $35 Fridays and Saturdays (Seniors 65+ and Military $29), Students under 30 $17, rush tickets $10 cash (available Thursdays and Fridays at 10 minutes to curtain)

For information and to purchase tickets, visit or call 817.784.9378.