The 4615 Theatre Company returns to Woolly Mammoth’s classroom theatre with its DC premiere of Saviana Stanescu’s Aliens with Extraordinary Skills.
With its touching story, enthusiastic ensemble, and devout theatrical earnestness, these Aliens and their Extraordinary Skills will warm your heart on this otherwise dreary (and cold) Washington August eve.
And, of course, I’m speaking metaphorically: in a town dedicated to doublespeak and pretense, sincerity goes a long way toward authenticity.
Stanescu’s play also explores a rarely visited terrain in Washington’s theatrical venues: immigrant clowns who are in America without proper visas.
Nadia and Borat (yes, apparently it’s a relatively common name), played by Julia Hurley and Jordan Friend, have come to the United States on what turn out to be fake visas. It turns out only the naive Nadia didn’t know the visas were fake. Borat just kept his mouth shut.
When the scam unravels, Nadia and Borat are forced to flee, one step in front of the INS, represented by two agitprop characters, played by Charlie Cook and Caroline McQuiag.
Eventually, Nadia, alias Ginger, and Borat, alias Steve from Tennessee, find their way separately to New York City, the place where dreams are made, or so we (and they) have been led to believe.
Here the two clowns meet Lupita and Bob, played by Cheyanne Williams and Mark Ashin; and their struggle to make their way in their new world begins.
Nadia’s story lies at the heart of Aliens, and Ms. Hurley does a fine job capturing both the character’s clownish naïveté and her gritty determination, and boy can she make a mean balloon doggy.
Nadia’s relationship with her subletter, Lupita, is the most substantial. Ms. Williams’ no-nonsense, nothing’s-going-to-stop-me Dominican exotic dancer anchors the cast with an excellently focused performance with plenty of nuance. From motivational monologues to self in front of her mirror to serious negotiations with Bob about the price of a couch, her Lupita shines brightest.
Nadia’s love interest is the musician turned corporate exec turned couch potato Bob; Mr. Ashin’s Bob is as fractured as his history implies. He doesn’t know who he is anymore or what he wants to do.
And then there is the cab-driving Borat. Mr. Friend gives him a big personality with a tender heart and a crude streak. You’ll feel for his situation but not wonder why he can’t find himself a woman.
Finally, Charlie Cook and Caroline McQuiag do well as the INS agents, even their preshow agitprop routine is fun.
For what it is worth, however, Aliens with Extraordinary Skills would have been an even better play if the story’s focus had remained on the struggles of Nadia and Borat, and the people they meet and love, without going into the rather hackneyed notion of how “evil” the INS is.
Stanescu’s story is a strong one, but I would have loved to have found out more about Nadia and Borat, Bob and especially Lupita, whose boundless optimism in the face of incredible odds is an example for us all.
Director Susannah Clark does an excellent job managing the multiple locations in the smallish Woolly classroom; she keeps the pacing varied as well.
E-hui Woo’s lights are right out of a backyard theatre set up and couldn’t be better.
With costumes by Claire Brown and sound by Jordan Friend the scenography is complete; for the setting must have been concocted by the ensemble.
Aliens with Extraordinary Skills is most definitely a play that speaks to our time and, even though all the major characters are “entertainers” of one sort or another, its story explores a world that is filled with non-entertainers, a world that is as alien to most theatregoers, particularly Washington theatregoers, as Nadia is to New York City.
Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.
Aliens with Extraordinary Skills plays through August 27 at the classroom at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (301) 928-2738, or buy them online.