Friday, April 30, 2010

Streep and Tucci

We went to see "The Aliens" on Wednesday night, a critically praised play now showing at the West Village's very modest Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. "The Aliens" is a new play by Annie Baker, who also wrote "Circle Mirror Transformation." I loved Circle Mirror, so was excited to get a glimpse of Aliens. The new play is about two slackers living somewhere in Vermont who hang out all day behind a local coffeehouse, whiling away the day silently musing and occasionally voicing superficially wise observations. They think of themselves as geniuses. One is writing the great American novel, the other is a mathematician with a philosophical bent. Baker has called it a "white dude" play, because, you know, it's about a couple of white dudes who say "man" all the time and speak in mellow, subdued tones to each other. The only other character is a geeky teenager who works at the coffeehouse, is befriended by the two dudes, and transformed by their generosity.

As we soon learn, they are all pretty troubled "white dudes" in ways that aren't immediately obvious, but that have the effect of uniting them with each other, and, to a certain extent, with us - the audience. And, of course, this is the secret to Baker's work. She writes about people who seem different, marginalized, alien, but she also has a way of tapping into those things that we all have in common - in particular, that unyielding search for meaning, love, and, perhaps most of all, belonging.

It was good play, but also a bit disappointing. A few too many long pauses, a little too much reality, I guess you could say. If art is life with the boring parts taken out, this could have been a little more artful, with a few more boring parts deleted.

The most exciting part of the evening was sitting at the Rattlestick, up in the tenth row or so, and while waiting for the play to start, spotting the greatest actress in the world stroll down the aisle to take her seat accompanied by none other than Stanley Tucci, a pretty good actor and director in his own right. Mind you, this is a tiny theater, maybe 100 seats, so to have Meryl Streep there changed the whole feel of the place, and, I have to admit, during a lot of the play I was wondering what Streep and Tucci thought, straining to hear their characteristic laughs and wondering which parts made them cross their arms across their chests and which parts made them smile with glee or frown in serious thought. Tucci looked EXACTLY as you would expect him to, as did Streep, but that long blonde hair of hers does sort of stun you. She's 60, after all, but still glamorous and winning and young. It was fun to spend time with them, even if it was from afar.

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