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Beckett Meets Bukowski in Theatre [502] Season Closer

Theatre [502] closes its second season with Annie Baker’s “The Aliens,” an Obie Award-winning play about three misfits who bond behind a Vermont coffee shop.“The Aliens” opens Friday in the Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville and runs through Oct. 13.Theatre [502] co-artistic director Mike Brooks says when he read “The Aliens" two years ago, it jumped to the top of the company’s “must-produce” pile. “It was all a matter of when the right team came together and clicked, because these are some very specific characters coming from some very specific points of view. Also, the dialog has such a specific rhythm and musicality to it. It’s like Mamet, but with THC instead of testosterone,” says Brooks. “We like to say it’s a little Bukowski meets Beckett.”“The Aliens” premiered off-Broadway at Rattlesticks Playwright Theater in 2010. It shared the Obie for best new American play with Baker’s 2009-10 premiere, “Circle Mirror Transformation.” Baker, 31, is a member of New Dramatists and a graduate of the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab.“I think this show really puts right out front some incredible strengths of hers,” says Brooks, who also directs. “To be so young and to have such insight into people and the way that they really behave, in ways that are not always grand or well-considered, but are true and that speak to what really move us deep down.”“The Aliens” tells the quiet story of KJ and Jasper, two creative misfits who, having claimed a staff-only space behind a coffee shop as their hangout, adopt high school coffee shop worker Evan (the playwright describes him as “existing in a state of constant humiliation”) into their strange fold.Three intertwined coming-of-age stories—with different starting points—follow. Brooks calls the characters “people who can’t always take care of themselves taking turns taking care of each other.”“They’re trying to understand the world around them and how they can fit into that. In trying to find this common ground and common language, they tell us a really beautiful story about the struggle to connect in a society that’s advanced beyond our capacity to really understand it or come to grips with it,” says Brooks. “As humans, our hardware can’t possibly evolve as fast as our software. We’re all trying to run HTML 5 on an Atari 2600.”Brooks and his co-artistic directors, Amy Attaway and Gil Reyes, formed Theatre [502] last summer. It’s safe to say the company has made a big impression on the arts community with its first two seasons. This year, the fledgling company took home a LEO Reader’s Choice Award for best theater troupe, with runner-up nods for best production (2011’s “Broadsword”) and best performing arts group. The company will reprise their very first play, Reyes’ production of Mat Smart’s “The Debate Over Courtney O’Connell of Columbus, Nebraska,” in the Slant Culture Theatre Festival in November.“It feels great to have met with the reception we have and have the kind of success, not just artistically, but building our audience, bringing people through the door and telling our stories,” says Brooks.Now, Brooks says the artistic directors are “knee-deep” in play scripts, planning for their third season. The artistic team has always been candid about wanting to produce the kinds of plays they want to see–recent, relevant works by exciting, living playwrights like Baker (and Jordan Harrison and Rajiv Joseph).“There are so many great writers out there telling stories of humanity and cruelty and unexpected twists, left and right, and we think we have some real surprises up our sleeves for Louisville,” he says.