For an audience going to see a brand-new play, the title is the first invitation into the world of the show. Is it going to be funny? Or scary? Relatable? Or puzzling?
“Recent Alien Abductions” by Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, which premiered at the 2017 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre, is all of those things, and more. It’s a shape-shifter, a mystery to be unfurled, and ultimately a very human story about what happens when you can no longer recognize your family as fellow humans.
Directed by Les Waters, the play opens with a long monologue, mostly about a particular episode of the TV show “The X-Files,” as remembered — or maybe misremembered — by Álvaro (Jon Norman Schneider).
When the scene shifts to Álvaro’s family home in Puerto Rico (evocative scenic design by Dane Laffrey), Álvaro is no longer present, but he’s still the center of the story. An outsider, Álvaro’s friend Patria (Ronete Levenson), needs his family’s permission to publish a collection of his short stories, but his brother Néstor (Bobby Plasencia) has his own reasons for resisting her request.
Strong performances by Levenson, Plasencia, and Mia Katigbak as Olga, Álvaro’s ailing mother who seems to slip in and out of awareness, help anchor this story in real life, even as the edges of “what really happened” appear blurry.
Audiences these days seem primed to laugh as soon as they step into a theater, but this is decidedly not a comedy, and it may be a tough sell because of that. The story eventually goes to some very dark places, as Álvaro’s past with his family is gradually illuminated, and it may be too much for some audience members. This is a show that requires patience and attention, and the experience — although unsettling — is ultimately rewarding.