The West End Players Guild opened a production of Stuart Spencer's comedy Resident Alien last weekend at Union Avenue Christian Church. Those who need a part-silly, part-serious evening of awfully well-acted theater can head on over to Union and Enright this weekend for a really pleasant spring tonic.
The action concerns five residents of a hamlet in upper Wisconsin or Michigan who are busy minding each other's business when, before the bemused eyes of Michael (B. Weller), his 10-year-old-son, Billy (Richard Breyer), is beamed up to a spaceship and a ship-jumping alien (John O'Hearn) remains behind. Imagine the anger of Priscilla (Susan Fay), Michael's in-your-face-assertive ex-wife and Billy's mom. Picture the scorn of Ray (Rory Flynn), Priscilla's beer-freak current husband. Identify with the chagrin of the sheriff (Ray Seibert), who is Michael's best friend but politically beholden to mother lion Priscilla.
Director Sean Ruprecht-Belt obviously acknowledges the Agnes Wilcox Law, which says that 80 percent of successful direction is successful casting. Weller is an acknowledged adept of classical acting, but Ruprecht-Belt has him playing a village malcontent, the liberal-arts graduate now working at Kmart and hanging with people who don't even try listening to Beethoven or reading Kierkegaard, with astonishing realism. Fay is frightening and funny as the pushiest bitch in the county, who figures that the spaceship-and-alien story is just Michael's latest attempt to get Billy out of the pernicious atmosphere generated by his tuning in to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. When others -- the sheriff, for instance -- try to put in a good word for the show, Weller is wonderfully earnest in his condemnation, refusing even to acknowledge its superiority to Xena: Warrior Princess.
But O'Hearn, in pea-green makeup, gently waltzes away with the play. He's not the sort of alien who wants to be taken to anyone's leader -- not that the play's other characters would know who their leader was or acknowledge him as such if they did know. Instead, O'Hearn's alien is a tall, gangling sort of party-down guy on the run from his too-serious world. He's like someone's barely grown-up little brother -- sweet and compliant but inexorable in his search for a good time for himself and contented peace for the rest of the world.
Ruprecht-Belt and his actors convince us that there is no direction; there are no actors. Things are just happening somewhere in the upper Midwest that we might be interested in being let in on, as of course we are. Resident Alien, polished, unpretentious and produced with uncomplicated love, is St. Louis community theater at its very best. Congratulations to everyone involved.
Resident Alien continues April 14-16.