Upstart Productions' “The Aliens” Is A Nice Comeback For The Young Theater Company.
A old professor of mine used to have a saying at the ready for those times she faced histrionic and cataclysmic fallout from her students in the wake of a cast list going up: “If there isn't work, make the work,” she'd say. And, invariably, those of us not constrained by the ruthless shackles of university-produced theater would come up with a script, a space and a righteous belief in the project. And people would ultimately show up to sit in an audience and see what we had to show for ourselves after all the work was done.
Theater takes an unbelievable amount of collaborative and individual work. And it isn't worth it if you don't absolutely love it as much as you do your kids or your dog or your gambling habit.
Worse, live theater is full of large personalities and loyalties and, by default, it's exceptionally political. Where you went to school or who you studied with has as much, if not more, to do with the jobs you can land in this town as anything.
So what happens when those not fortunate enough to study at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts or a some high-end out-of-town school can't find work? Well, they make the work.
Or at least that's what Upstart Productions committed itself to doing after being founded in 2008. Named for a historical pamphlet published by an English university scholar in 1592 which, among other things, referred to a young actor and playwright of the day called William Shakespeare “an upstart Crow,” Upstart is exactly what it professes to be, a company for anyone willing to put on their thespian pants, roll up their sleeves and work for the privilege.
Upstart had a busy first few seasons and then took a hiatus last year, co-producing only one show. But now the company is embarking upon a comeback, starting with a guest-directed, Obie Award-winning show called “The Aliens” now running at the Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park and directed by the AT&T Performing Arts Center's David Denson.
“I would've directed this play for anybody,” Denson says succinctly of the show's script. “This is a tremendous piece of writing. It doesn't lead you anywhere. But, by the end, you realize you've gone on a journey.”
Specifically, “The Aliens” tells of a journey endured by a group of disaffected thirtysomethings and a high school student. And, in many ways, the show is an anchor-throw back to where Upstart first began in terms of the content the group presented early on in its existence, with shows such as Kenneth Lonergan's “This is Our Youth” and Eric Bogosian's “Suburbia.”
It's not just coincidental that the fate of a fledgling theater company and the plot of its comeback piece intersect. In fact, it's the really wonderful thing going on here with this play.
Under Denson's direction, Annie Baker's play stands like a three-legged barstool. Actor Joey Folsom's angsty and restless Jasper contrasts with Tim Maher's more mellow Psilocybin-inclined K.J. and is stabilized with Justin Duncan's rendition of Evan, the awkward and impressionable teenager who stumbles into a presumably tragic life-defining situation while taking the garbage out the first day of his summer job at a Vermont coffeehouse.
The lack of pyrotechnics or spectacle allows the show's dialogue — so thoughtfully written that it continually foreshadows and mirrors itself — to remain the vanguard of a theatrical experience wherein one discovers oneself.
The show runs each and every Thursday, Friday and Saturday through the 31st. And, if nothing else, it's an absolute must-see for anyone looking for a meaningful reminder of what theater can be.
Or what theater can be when you make it work, at least.
Tickets can be purchased and more information on “The Aliens” and Upstart Productions can be found here.