The actors are fine in their roles. Parker S. Donovan as 9-year-old Aethan is the center of events. He shows up in the costume he created for a Halloween his devout Mormon mother doesn’t want him to celebrate. So, he ran away from home and is found hidden in the closet of a shabby, cluttered office, the headquarters of the “Utah Alien Chasers,” overseen by Robin (Aarya Sara Locker) and employing Beau (Scott Schneider), her ex-boyfriend. The two of them are devoted to looking for extraterrestrial life, or at least Robin is. Beau is more interested in hanging out with his current girlfriend, Jessie (Emily Fisher), a Hooters’ waitress. Gary (Beyer) a down-at-heels alcoholic keeps trying to get a job with the alien chasers, and while Beau is very fond of him, Robin doesn’t want him around.
Each cast member has soliloquies to explain who they are and where they’ve been and, to the extent they understand their own actions, why they made the choices they did. Each character is searching for something. Robin has turned to the possibility of life outside this world to replace the God her mother took away from her by giving her the idea that grownups didn’t believe in such foolishness. But her spirit hungers for more. She met Beau online and learned they had common interests and both lived in Utah and that was enough to bring them together. We never learn what broke them up, but they do have a brief reunion of sorts.
Beau needs to distract Robin from trying to get him off his butt, so when the boy reveals himself by heavy breathing (asthma) and emerges dressed as a Jackosaurus (he is upset when he’s mistaken for Tyrannosaurus Rex), the group assumes he may be an alien. He is revealed as a genius (I.Q. 217) who is multitalented, and he even is able to produce a level of telekinesis by concentrating on making the lights flicker and a mobile twirl. We learn that Gary brought him home in a drunken stupor and Beau doesn’t remember meeting the kid either since he was stoned. Of course, they should have taken him back to his mother and of course they don’t, and here is where the whole play becomes a contrived mess. There’s no such thing as a quick costume change, and the long blackouts disrupt any sense of momentum that is built through the scenes.
Playwright and former St. Louis actor Lauren Dusek Albonico calls this “the kind of play I like go to see, a high-energy comedy.” The serious stuff is subtext. It certainly is. The name “Aethan,” sounds sort of other-worldly (its origin is Medieval Gaelic, according to Aethan himself) and Robin believes in him, I guess, because she needs to, and Gary and Beau encourage her delusions. The kid even speaks in “arpy darpy,” a variation of pig Latin, which further convinces Robin of what she desperately wants to think is true. The play purports to ask the question about his origins—is he a real boy or an alien? He says he’s just a regular, albeit special, kid. Maybe I’m just too literal, but I’d believe that and get him back to his mom a.s.a.p. It takes four days for the police to start seriously looking for him. What? And they didn’t issue an amber alert until then. Huh? His disappearance was reported earlier. We heard that in a radio broadcast.
There are some serious issues lurking around in here besides Robin’s mom’s balloon-busting about the god thing. Both Beau and Aethan have lost their fathers at early ages and Gary messed things up so badly with his wife and kid, he’s been thrown out. So, all of them are alone and seeking meaning and companionship. Albonico mentions in her program note that “a family dynamic” was created in this disparate group of mostly lost souls (except Jessica who happily leads the unexamined life, though she’s probably the smartest of the lot) and “. . . issues of faith [began] to creep in during the laughs.” As faith may require a suspension of logic, then this play may have achieved its aims for the author, but not for me. Albonico has talent, but this is an amateurish effort. I’m surprised to see a company that I consider to be consistently one of the best and most interesting in town and a director I admire consider it worthy of full production. It needs to go back to the workshop and not be allowed out until it’s ready for prime time.
If you go, make sure to see Alan McClintock (appearing briefly in the play as Terrence, the cop) give the introductory “turn off your cell phone, etc.” speech. It’s very funny, and sad to say, the rest is all downhill from there.
Intelligent Life is at HotCity Theatre through May 14. You may call 314-289-4063 or visit www.hotcitytheatre.org. Andrea Braun also reviews for KDHX 88.1 FM Radio.
BY: ANDREA BRAUN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT