Damien Atkins is a terrific performer, which makes it easier to enjoy We Are Not Alone, a self-depracating monologue about a guy who’s obsessed by the idea of life out there in the universe. From the moment the lights go up, he allows everybody to breathe easy and enjoy the ride. The playwright (also Atkins) seems half-embarrassed by his obsession. A lot of the first movement is almost comically designed to disarm critics.
A “world premiere” from Crow’s Theatre, currently onstage in the Segal Centre’s studio, We Are Not Alone is an argumentative piece which starts out by giving chronological and historical evidence of UFOs, then takes a detour to Arizona for a conference where it gets genuinely funny. Atkins’ performance of all the diverse types of participants at this gathering is fantastic and hilarious. Throughout this part of the play we are treated to what the playwright calls the boogga boogga or more outrageous participants in a gathering of true believers.
The final part is a journey which takes the author into the Arizona desert and to the brink of his own spiritual quest. That’s where it gets lost. The self-reflective spirit which makes the first two thirds of the play conceivable suddenly becomes a challenge to accept, given the more outrageous flights of fancy which the extra-terrestrial-believers serve up.
Anyone who’s been to Arizona will understand the lure of the desert spirits, vortexes and zones, but there are limits to what one can be asked to share. There is a beauty in parts of that state which is evocative and full of majesty, and Atkins comes close to capturing it. However, his experience beyond that is personal and doesn’t fit the rest of the work.
A good play is one which is consistent within itself - whatever that entails. The restlessness of the opening night audience throughout the second half of the play was due to the radical change of tone. The evocation of Stephen Hawking to retro-justify the entire enterprise is just schmaltzy.
It’s directed by some heavy hitters from Toronto (Chris Abraham and Christian Barry) and has the kind of smoothness at which they excel. There’s a moment when the lights come up and the audience is asked some direct questions which doesn’t really work, because most people want to be convinced, not questioned half way through the argument.
It is still a terrific performance and a slick piece of theatre.
At the Segal Centre until March 15. More info here.
Anna Fuerstenberg is a writer, director, performer and teacher.