THE ALIENS premiere in Toronto at Coal Mine Theatre

We opened our fourth season with Pullitzer-Prize winning playwright, Annie Baker. THE ALIENS held it's Toronto premiere at the best theatre in town, Coal Mine

JASPER | Noah Reid (Schitt's Creek

KJ | William Greenblatt (Even Steven's

EVAN | Maxwell Haynes (Toronto debut)

(L to R) MAXWELL HAYNES, NOAH REID, and WILLIAM GREENBLATT | Photo by TIM LEYES | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

(L to R) MAXWELL HAYNES, NOAH REID, and WILLIAM GREENBLATT | Photo by TIM LEYES | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

Having read the reviews before watching the production on stage, I realized I was preparing myself for all those moments the critics reported: silences, the feelings of loss, frustrating unrealized potential, the perfect play for millennial misfits, etc.

What I didn't expect was the tears. I was barely able to clap and woot at the end, so much was I chocking on emotions that Annie Baker brought out through sparse dialogue.

I hand it to Mitchell Cushman. The direction was unbelievable. You (audience) are in the back of this cafe for the whole two hours and the world feels so much larger than it really is. We were seeing this "space space" the way Kevin Janos (KJ) and Jasper saw it. 

Here are my thoughts as to why Annie Baker is pure genius - the kind Jasper and Kevin talk about.

THE ALIENS

We find out in one conversation early on that "The Aliens" was a proposed band title for KJ and Jasper. Jasper said he thought it was lame. Near the end, though, KJ lists off the band names once more, stopping at "The Aliens." We then understand the relevance of the name and how it resonated with KJ. He never says this, but we get it. This is the name he holds dear to his heart.

UNREALIZED POTENTIAL

This is a big theme running throughout the entire show. Jasper never goes off to college but is an aspiring author; Nor does he know KJ in high school. They meet after KJ drops out of college first year and have been together ever since. There blossoming friendship seems to be founded on silences, hearty "bro" statements, and an inability to express any sort of emotion outside of anger and excitement. They are two passionate people. 

NOAH REID (forefront), WILLIAM GREENBLATT (left) and MAXWELL HAYNES ( right) | Photo by TIM LEYES | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

NOAH REID (forefront), WILLIAM GREENBLATT (left) and MAXWELL HAYNES ( right) | Photo by TIM LEYES | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

Would I read Jasper's novel? YES. What was so interesting is how Jasper chose to reveal parts of his own personal past through his fictional main character (a character without a name). For example, when Jasper found out his ex was dating a new person named Sprocket, he transforms his rage and feelings into hard work, producing "20 pages." The end result is that his once placid and content character decides to become nomadic and move away. We can only imagine that had Jasper remained alive, he and KJ would have planned the same road trip and been thoroughly disappointed with what they saw in America. 

Evan's poignantly shy and awkward comments also factor into Jasper's work. After admitting he doesn't celebrate the Fourth of July because it's weird to "sit in a football field and watch things explode in the sky," Evan blurts out that he hates America. Jasper looks at Evan - maybe even for the first time - seeing something more than a loner teen working at a coffee shop. 

Perhaps this is the bitterness evoked in Jasper's main character after arriving in California and realizing it all looks "the same" as the rest of America. "Was Miller lying? Is he curled up underneath some billboard writing this shit with the drive in movie theatre offering a dim light?"

THE MAKING OF JASPER

What really struck me a few days after thinking about the production is how Annie Baker sets up Evan to take over Jasper's place. There were three important moments in which this became apparent: 

  1. At the beginning during an early conversation in which KJ talks about what their friends are doing, he mentions one guy - Jasper's weed dealer - who now lives on a wind farm. Jasper asks, "how does he live on a wind farm?" Later in the production, two weeks after Jasper's funeral, KJ brings up the wind farm as a potential destination for him. And Evan replies, "how do you live on a wind farm?" 
  2. After KJ storms off to the other side of the cafe, Jasper continues to belittle him - playfully - and talks about KJ's mental breakdown. We at this point begin to see KJ's character unfolding and get a glimpse into how he has coped with a mental illness. Jasper said KJ would walk towards people on the street and go "zip" to their face while touching their forehead gently. Like a baptism of sorts, KJ also does this to Evan after Jasper passes. He asks Evan to kneel. Evan respects the process and allows KJ the dignity of committing this act. 
  3. Jasper sees Evan as a potential protegee - asking him if he smokes and if he writes poetry. Evan says occasionally - and coughs after inhaling. And he says he writes occasionally but comes full circle and says no, he doesn't write. In the final scene, KJ notices Evan smoking and asks him if he is addicted. Evan's response is, "yes. Well hopefully." 

Further to these, we see Evan beginning a potential relationship with a CIT he met at "band camp" - Nicole - and we can only assume Evan's timid and shy behavior will lead him to be a good and loyal boyfriend. We also hope Nicole is a good person too. 

The end offers us a glimmer of hope. KJ tells Evan he "loves him." Evan allows KJ to cry and to express emotions outside of anger - something KJ was not able to do with Jasper. KJ even tells Evan, "it's okay if you don't know how to cry." Evan later apologizes for running away from KJ after finding out about Jasper's overdose. These two moments of human affection give us hope that their blossoming friendship might allow for greater emotional connections - the type KJ needs and Evan is able to offer.

MOTHERS

There are three mothers that factor a lot in this work:

(L to R) MAXWELL HAYNES, WILLIAM GREENBLATT and NOAH REID | Photo by TIM LEYES | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

(L to R) MAXWELL HAYNES, WILLIAM GREENBLATT and NOAH REID | Photo by TIM LEYES | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

  • Jasper's mom who died when he was 15 years old - this we find out when he is reading a part of his novel and the main character loses his mom at age 15
  • KJ's mom - the eccentric new age woman that Jasper is keen to mention whenever he can,
  • Evan's loving mother that contradicts him over the phone about what to eat for dinner

We don't know much other than Jasper lost his mother. KJ at first says that that part in the novel seems too fabricate or obvious; at which point Jasper opens up and admits, "my mom died when I was fifteen." 

I think the most heartfelt scene is at the end, when KJ tells Evan the story about "ladder." When KJ is unable to stop saying ladder his mom holds his hand and says, "you can say it as much as you like. I'm going to sit here and hold your hand with you." We feel for KJ. He clearly has a bright mind - having gone to school for math and philosophy. But there are so many other underlying issues that he may never have received proper support for. The sadness he feels at the moment is described in relation to his thesis: the logic charts,  if p then q. This becomes his way of explaining this issue to Evan.

Moments before, Evan's mother had called to ask when he would be home for dinner and if he would prefer "carrots or asparagus." Evan seems annoyed by this question, but all of this is trivial in comparison to KJ's recent remark, "I want to kill myself." Evan doesn't leave him and stays to talk and listen. They bond over stories about their mothers.

-----

There is so much more you can say about this production. I'll leave that to the other critics. All I can say is that it just really affects you. It's tough to verbalize in a way, so strong do you feel near the end. My heart goes out to KJ and Jasper and Evan. And my heart goes out to Noah, William and Maxwell for giving each of their characters respect and dignity.

Stay connected to the Coal Mine Theater for the rest of the fourth season: subscribe here.

Thank you Coal Mine for continuing to challenge your audiences with relevant and insightful subject matter.

- Jennifer

Coal Mine Theatre - Working with the Best

It's been two years since my journey with Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto's hottest rising east-end theatre company (in my humble opinion).



... Actually STAGE DOOR, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, and NOW MAGAZINE (NNNN) agree with my opinion too!

Chief Engineers Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra have been SO open, patient, and kind and I feel very blessed to be a part of such an inspiring team.

PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

You know how they (who is they?) say to place yourself around successful people who are doing innovative things? Well that is how I feel each and every day I get to work alongside the entire creative and artistic team.

DIANA BENTLEY, SHAUN BENSON, TED DYKSTRA, and CHRIS HAYES on set 

DIANA BENTLEY, SHAUN BENSON, TED DYKSTRA, and CHRIS HAYES on set 

After completing the website, Diana and I bonded over SM discussions and coffee! We began working on Twitter and Facebook, and saw a 73% increase over a year and a half!

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

We even ventured into producing video content this year and it was a pleasure to put together short vignettes about the BREATHING CORPSES cast.

We tried our very first holiday themed show and it was a blast. Louise Pitre and Kenneth Welsh on stage. Sweet melodious music mixed with a live reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales."

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

PHOTO BY SHAUN BENSON | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE

We are half way through Season Three, and I couldn't be more excited to be a part of the team that is putting on the Canadian premiere of SUPERIOR DONUTS. Tracy Letts, the wondrously talented writer (August: Osage County, and KILLER JOE)

PHOTO BY ATSHUTTERSPEED

PHOTO BY ATSHUTTERSPEED

We close this season with what Diana likes to call, "our dark horse." - ORPHANS. We were at Evergreen Brickworks this past weekend shooting out on the train tracks. Actually let me rephrase. I was safely on firm ground while the cast and photographer, Shaun, were out on the train tracks.

PHOTO BY ATSHUTTERSPEED | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE | ORPHANS

PHOTO BY ATSHUTTERSPEED | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE | ORPHANS

PHOTO BY ATSHUTTERSPEED | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE | ORPHANS

PHOTO BY ATSHUTTERSPEED | PROPERTY OF COAL MINE THEATRE | ORPHANS

Tickets are selling fast for the final two shows! If you like innovative, challenging, modern, and enticing art, Coal Mine is for you. If you like sheer entertainment - you have come to the right place!

Nominated for DORA awards three years running, I very much look forward to moving up and beyond in our next season of work!

- Jenn

Coal Mine Theatre | The River in review

The theatre is a unique space. It plays out in real time, without editing or cutting to improve the narrative flow. Stuff can happen (Murphy's law), and you have to role with the punches.

The world can feel so large and yet so small at times. Here's what I mean. One of my favourite English professors from undergrad met up with a fellow classmate in Ottawa for a seminar talk. They conversed and he mentioned his daughter's and her partner's theatre company, Coal Mine Theatre, and their need to build a website before the new 2015 / 2016 season. And presto, through fate and good fortune, my name got thrown into the mix and I got to go on an amazing journey with Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra this past summer.

Working with two graphic designers, Catherine Erkinger and Kostis Pedritis, the three of us constructed and fashioned a website that is simple, easy to navigate, and rich in colour.

What is Coal Mine Theatre? It is a company that produces off-off broadway plays. Very indie, with large name actors occupying intimate spaces and creating an experience like no other for the audience.

"If you sit in the front row of the Coal Mine’s tiny theatre, a storefront venue on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, you’ll get a close-up view of Ferry as he nimbly beheads and eviscerates a glistening silver trout while an instrumental version of Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin plays wryly in the background." - The Globe and Mail

The 2015 / 2016 theatre season is comprised of four plays: The River, The Winter's Tale, Killer Joe, and Instructions (to any future socialist government proposing to abolish Christmas).

The 2015 / 2016 season at Coal Mine Theatre

I watched "The River" (Jez Butterworth) this past weekend and I was mesmerized. My partner and I were struck with the mystique, the open ended plot, the brilliant stage direction (ahem Ted Dykstra) and the intense emotion evoked by each actor on stage.

"Butterworth’s style easily moves between mundane exchanges and a heightened poetic prose." - Stage Door

Post City captures "the man" (David Ferry) in the narrative hauntingly beautiful, showcasing the intricate and detailed set design and the uncomfortable and open ended story.

Truly a work that will haunt me moving forward. I canno wait for the rest of the season.

BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE.

This is an experience like no other!

- Jenn, an enthusiastic theatre goer!

COAL MINE facebook

COAL MINE twitter