If you don’t believe in little green men, We Are Not Alone may not convince you otherwise.
But it will point to the loneliness of humanity that wants to reach beyond itself and find kindred spirits outside the sphere of Earth. Actor Damien Atkins is a congenial tour guide who brings to life an amazing variation of characterizations in his solo play about the phenomenon of UFOs and extraterrestrial documentation, making its world premiere at the Segal Centre Studio until March 15.
Chris Abraham of Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre and Christian Barry of Halifax’s 2b Theatre co-direct with a vivid sense of space. Atkins uses it all, and his talents as a physical clown and facial contortionist reminiscent of Jim Carrey are supremely entertaining.
He lays out the evidence – and the lack of it – that has kept earthlings swaying on the lip of the crater of credulity since 1947 when pilot Kenneth Arnold tracked from his plane the moving lights of a pie plate-shaped craft clocked at 12,200 mph. That Orson Welles was able to start a panic with his War of the Worlds radio drama in 1938 showed that the world was ripe for belief.
Atkins has created a play about writing the play, the progression of which he tracks through his odyssey into research, bringing to life scenes from events, and capping them with a memorable trip to a four-day International UFO Congress in Arizona that is the most delightful part of the evening.
Kimberly Purtell stretches the audience’s tolerance with her lighting but elicits the desired effect, often aiming the spacecraft beams into our eyes until we feel like the subjects of alien scrutiny. Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design is evocative with its bleating sheep shocked by radioactive debris in Roswell and the drip of a motel bathroom tap emphasizing Atkins’ solitary thoughts when he retreats for rest after the antics at the congress.
It takes the Dora Award-winning actor no time at all to prove his versatility. He embodies military men, ranchers, citizens who are convinced they have been the subject of spacecraft experiments, New Age meditators and hippies, psychologists and even a row of men, lined up at urinals, who seem to be channelling other life forms.
He captures the nuances and facial expressions of male and female characters, his own persona interacting with them with varied degrees of disbelief and the desire to suspend it.
Atkins both debunks and persuades, leaving you to decide for yourself which side of the quandary you take up. It may be disappointing to some that the tension he builds while accumulating his evidence, falls a little flat.
He admits he has no answers either.
More importantly, over the course of the 90 minutes, Atkins draws a portrait of the audience isolated in the reflecting back wall of Julie Fox’s simple but effective smoke and mirrors set.
The clue to our obsession with wanting to solve the enigma of UFOs is the universal desire to understand human existence, by verifying that of other life forms.
As Atkins says at the outset, he wanted to “write a play about getting older.” When we cross the threshold of adulthood, we leave behind our sense of being special and melt into the ordinary.
Those deemed “crazy,” “deluded” and “nonsensical” at the congress are perhaps individuals who haven’t released their childhood attachment to the magic of possibility.
That Atkins can sit himself down in the surreal landscape of Sedona in search of energy vortexes and instead slow down enough to find the beauty and wonder of his own Earthly surroundings is a note of optimism.
That feeling of hope is what buoys us as we emerge from the theatre. For tickets to We Are Not Alone, call 514-739-7944 or go to www.segalcentre.org .