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It's Not Easy Being Green: Locals look to the skies when an alien has already landed in their midst in 'Resident Alien.'

Green Party

A space visitor turns a town around in City Lights' 'Resident Alien'

By Heather Zimmerman

IT CAN BE HARD WORK being happy, especially since it takes some self-awareness to know what makes you happy in the first place. The residents of a small Wisconsin town are in dire need of some enlightenment on that count when a space alien visits the town and tries to show them the way in Stuart Spencer's comedy Resident Alien, presented by City Lights Theater Company. An ardent intellectual, Michael (Richard Montgomery) has always seemed a bit alien himself in his small community, so when Billy (Matt Arnold)--his son with his ex-wife, Priscilla (Rachel Martin)--disappears while on a walk with Michael, and Michael claims aliens took the boy, the general belief is that Michael kidnapped him. At the same time, there's a new arrival in town, a charismatic green-skinned man (John Kovacevich), who befriends everyone, and who is an alien AWOL from his spaceship. (It's hinted that his green skin escapes detection by most, because of a combination of dark lighting and concealing makeup.)

Spencer takes every opportunity to play up the ordinariness of the alien, particularly his similarities to humans. As if to add to the familiarity, the play is structured much like a sitcom, with short, episodic scenes and punch line humor, and it works: Resident Alien is much more 3rd Rock From the Sun than The X-Files--there's nothing much unusual about the alien, and that's the point. Though it takes him until the end of the play to say it, the alien states the obvious: that humans needlessly make big deals out of differences that are based on perception only, whether it's race or gender, and that it's these supposed differences that alienate us and keep us from finding happiness.

Director Tom Ammon ably helms the show, but interestingly enough, the alien is certainly the most fleshed-out character in the play. We get a much better sense of what motivates him--fun and partying--than we do of what drives the other characters: for instance, why Michael stays in a town that frustrates his intellectual pursuits, or why Priscilla has remarried Ray (Ray Holt), a hard-drinking bartender who makes her unhappy. These characters are adrift when the alien first arrives, and though they may understand themselves better by the end of the play, the audience doesn't.

Kovacevich's performance as the alien is likable and accessible, and he never gives in to the temptation to make the character overly quirky. Montgomery and Martin are best when their characters are at their most miserable, perhaps partly because the script doesn't provide enough insight to make them believably happy. In fact, the play has trouble grappling with its own panacea for human happiness, which is offered up by the alien. He advises that the differences among us really are insignificant, yet ultimately, Michael feels so out of place that he longs to go live with the aliens, who are more of his intellectual ilk, even if it means never seeing his son again. So is Spencer advocating that we celebrate our differences, or find our own kind to be with? Unfortunately, it seems even Spencer doesn't think the answer is as easy as his alien does.

Resident Alien plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm through June 17. City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St, San Jose. Tickets are $15 Thursday and Sunday, $18 Friday-Saturday. (408.295.4200)

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From the June 1-7, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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