A chat with actor Parker Gray about getting really really real

Q: The playwright of this show, Annie Baker, has become known for her hyper-realistic aesthetic and style. She posits situations, characters, and environments that are true to life in very specifically modern ways. In working on The Aliens, what have been the most exciting and challenging parts of exploring a theatrical style that is (the characters notwithstanding) stripped of much theatricality?

A: I think perhaps the most exciting thing about any hyper-realistic play is (when you’re able to fulfill the requirements of the role) how easy it is to understand where these characters come from, where they are, and where they’re going. And when you have a playwright as talented as Annie Baker creating these stories and characters, it does half of the work for you. Playing around in Evan’s world has been extremely fun and challenging at the same time.

Something exciting to play with is the fact that, because these characters are SO human, every thought that goes through your head completely supports the action of the scene. And what I mean by that is, in other plays it is really easy for an actor to be upset with themselves because they will become distracted and their thoughts will roam if they aren’t listening well, or even if they’re listening “too hard”. You can start to judge your thought process and get in your own way, because you don’t feel connected with your partner, or you haven’t quite figured out your path yet. However, with the help of Annie’s writing and the world she has created, this hyperrealism allows the actor to think SO many thoughts about what’s going on, and it’s almost impossible to lose track of where you are. I’ve found that Evan is an extremely vigilant and observant character, so he is constantly judging the world around him and he’s judging himself through these experiences around him. And because of this, I as the actor, am fully able to jump into that mindset and track my journey through each scene. Evan is always hyperaware of when he is messing up or making too many waves, and so every self-conscious thought an actor could have is mirrored in Evan’s world. No thought is off limits; which is so freeing as an actor. It is so easy to find your way back to the scene or the action if you’re lost. However, this ability isn’t possible without doing the outside rehearsal room work you need to do as an actor, but Annie Baker definitely helps you get to where you need to be.

Now this script isn’t void of challenges by any means. Every night is fun, because you get to play around and try new things, but this play still costs you something. It is a tiring journey to go on. The play is so sweet and endearing, while also being brutal and heartbreaking. And I as the actor feel that every day during and after every rehearsal. These characters are all wounded in some deep, serious place, and in order to fulfill the requirements of this play, you have to go there and it’s tough. Each character is so meaty and full, and any actor would love to be able to sink their teeth into these roles, but it comes at a price. And that’s what good writing and good acting requires: a price to be paid. Annie spends precious time setting these characters so high on a pedestal, only to fall very far very quick. And you have to go there in order to do the play. And because of the brilliant writing and the hyper-realistic style you FEEL that every time. It’s challenging, but in a good way. Acting wouldn’t be fun if it was easy. And I wouldn’t want to do it, if I didn’t have to work. This play makes you work, but it also makes it seem effortless. And with this cast and creative team, it’s impossible not to have fun, to go after each other, and to feel all the things every night.