Aliens With Extraordinary Skills (Review)

Know Theatre production portrays the plight of immigrant clowns in New York

Give Know Theatre credit for presenting plays with unexpected perspectives. Its current production, Aliens with Extraordinary Skills, is by Saviana Stanescu, a playwright from Romania who lives and works in New York City. Her play is about a pair of clowns, Nadia (Liz Vosmeier) and Borat (Matthew Lewis Johnson), who have arrived in the U.S. as victims of an immigration scam. Through no fault of their own, they’ve received deportation orders. They flee to New York where he drives a cab while she employs her “extraordinary skills” — clowning, including balloon animal-making — to pay the rent.

Borat drinks too much vodka, pursues an ill-fated romance with Nadia’s landlord Lupita (Kaitlin Becker), gets arrested for drunk driving and is queued up for a forced return to Eastern Europe. Nadia’s earnings are paltry and branching out into Lupita’s world of exotic dancing and escorts has predictably unhappy results. But an out-of-work musician, Bob (George Alexander), offers unexpected support and marriage, so her prospects brighten. Until then, she’s haunted by a pair of (imaginary?) INS agents (MJ Jurgensen and Beth Harris) who harass her before she gets the gumption to banish them and live her own happy, modest life.

Aliens has some charming scenes and tender interactions, and Vosmeier and Johnson (a regular at Cincinnati Shakespeare for eight seasons) offer amusing moments of clowning. But the script and production, directed by Eric Vosmeier, drift from farce to melodrama without delivering a clear message.

The INS agents — wearing dark suits, sunglasses, clown socks and oversized shoes — are a kind of chorus, but are we meant to take them as a serious threat or as figments of Nadia’s paranoid imagination? Stanescu’s perspective as a playwright from another culture is surely part of the explanation, but this play feels like an “alien” experience.

ALIENS WITH EXTRAORDINARY SKILLS continues at Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Feb. 26. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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