Silence Is Golden at The Aliens at SF Playhouse A Trainload of Laughs on the Twentieth Century at RVP

Haynes Thigpen as KJ, Peter O'Connor as Jasper & Brian Miskell as Evan in The Aliens

Annie Baker's Obie-winning play, The Aliens is currently receiving its West Coast Premiere at the SF Playhouse.

In the town of Shirley, Vermont, also the setting for Baker's Body Awareness, recently staged at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley and Circle Mirror Transformations (which opens at Marin Theatre Company in August) hanging out by the dumpster behind the coffee shop, two young men meditate on music, philosophy and Charles Bukowski.  When a teenage employee asks them to relocate, they find the disciple they've been waiting for.  When the play opens, KJ (Haynes Thigpen) is staring blissfully into the sky for about five minutes. This is the first of the many silences in the play that speaks volumes. Each actor has them and all of them have sub-texts which are very specific.

According to Artistic Director, Bill English, Annie Baker's "ability to capture the nuances and subtleties of contemporary dialogue and the dense power of silence has made her one of the exciting new voices in American theatre."  KJ is a University of Vermont dropout, derailed by a nervous breakdown. His pal, Jasper (Peter O'Connor) is a high-school dropout, a Charles Bukowski freak who is channeling his bitterness at a failed love affair into the composition of a sub-Kerouac novel. This pair of losers who once played in a band called "The Aliens," seem super cool to Evan (Brian Miskell), the nervous high-school student who has a summer job at the shop.  His painful awkwardness apprehensive curiosity and aching need for adult acceptance are brought to life in a believable way by Miskell.  

KJ and Jasper invite Evan to a 4th of July party to be held in their grotto behind the coffee shop.  Evan, the only guest, brings brownies, sparklers and peppermint schnapps.  The casting for each role is excellent. These three actors breathe life into these three fragile young men on the fringe of society. They have the challenge of filling lengthy silences repeatedly.

Director Lila Neugebauer not only sets the production's delicate pace, but she guides her three actors to rich characterizations with her flawless direction enhanced by Bill English's realistically detailed set.  

Again to quote from Bill English, "The Aliens reminds us a little of Chekhov's hidden plot, of Beckett's minimalist word play, and of course, Pinter's tension filled pauses."  

Both of Annie Baker's plays, Body Awareness and The Aliens dwell on the nature of how we connect with each other, how we need each other, and how we express our love for each other.  

The Aliens plays through May 5 at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St. (1 block off Union Square) and b/n Powell and Mason, San Francisco.

Performances are held Tuesday-Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 3 p.m.

For tickets, contact the SF Playhouse Box Office, 415-677-9596 or go online at

Coming up next at SF Playhouse will be A Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh and directed by Susi Damilano from May 15-June 30, 2012.  


As one enters the theatre at Ross Valley Players, a large-scale model of the 20th Century Limited and a diorama created by Images of the Past Railroad Modeling Company is immediately on display. To further enhance the mood, authentic period recordings from the 30's were introduced by Director Billie Cox.  Cox is also a great sound designer.  The music in the show, as well as pre-show and intermission music, included music by Louis Armstrong, Red Nichols, Eddie Cantor, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Durante, Bob Crosby and the Bobcats and, as curtain call, Al Jolson.

It is most interesting to compare this production of this play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, (which was based on a play by Charles Bruce Millholland), in a new adaptation by Ken Ludwig with a production of the musical On the Twentieth Century, with book and lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden and music by Cy Coleman which was staged at Novato Theater Company last October. The story was basically the same with gender changes and a different ending.  

The Ross Valley Players' production of Twentieth Century is as fast-paced as the repartee of the famous luxury train itself.  Ken Ludwig's adaptation is reminiscent of the 1934 movie starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard when a cast of characters plot to rescue a director's failing theater career. 

Directed by Billie Cox and produced by Karen Laffey, Twentieth Century is based on a legendary, eccentric, Broadway producer.  Oscar Jaffe (Dale Camden) must convince his former leading lady Lili Garland (Jennifer Reimer) once a chorus girl and now a Hollywood starlet, to return to Broadway for his upcoming show. 

The entire play takes place aboard the luxurious 20th Century Limited from Chicago to New York City in 1938.  The fabulous set is by Ken Rowland with beautiful costumes for Lili Garland by Michael A. Berg.  

Under Billie Cox's imaginative direction, the entire cast has a spirit of camaraderie as well as excellent playing energy and comic timing. 

Twentieth Century plays from March 23-April 22 at Ross Valley Players.   Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. All performances take place at Ross Valley Players' Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.  For reservations, call 415-456-9555, extension 1 or go online at

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams and directed by Chris Cassell, May 18-June 17, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson