Body Awareness, Baker's first Off Broadway success, is the most conventional of the plays — and the most overtly entertaining, with a scent of sit-com wafting into all the humaneness and less work to be done understanding between the lines. As with Circle Mirror Transformation, there is a superimposed structure: the five days of Body Awareness Week at Shirley State College as marked on a chalkboard by psychology professor Phyllis, organizer of the event. But the focus is disruption on the home front, where Phyllis's three-year relationship with divorced high-school teacher Joyce is threatened by the home stay of BA Week visiting artist Frank Bonitatibus, who takes pictures of naked women. The guy, whom Joyce sees as a sensitive shutterbug and Phyllis pegs as a sleazeball, also doles out some crude romantic advice to Joyce's 21-year-old McDonald's-employee son, Jared, an aspiring lexicographer furiously obsessed with the Oxford English Dictionary and sex but refusing to acknowledge the myriad signs that he suffers from Asperger's syndrome.
Cristina Todesco designed the sets for all three plays, and this one's a bit of a domestic jumble. But Paul Daigneault's production is adroit enough to tap the vulnerability lurking beneath the My Two Moms comedy, which, as it develops, is more about mental than bodily awareness and acceptance. Paula Plum's Joyce is the open-minded heart of the production, but Adrianne Krstansky takes a quiet pickax to the PC carapace of feminist psychologist Phyllis. Richard Snee's Frank is as a gently creepy catalyst. And recent Boston Conservatory grad Gregory Pember is the spiky embodiment of little-intellectual-lost Jared, his outrageous bluntness a two-edged sword.
Beckett meets Bogosian in The Aliens, whose Gogo and Didi are a couple of 30-year-old slackers hanging out behind Shirley's Green Sheep coffeeshop in an off-limits area intended for the staff and the garbage. This is the most Baker-esque slice of Shirley life on view at the Calderwood, swimming in pauses and quirks. In an introductory note to the script is the authorial tip: "At least a third of this play is silence." And indeed, with time out for small explosions, the play moves at the pace of its loser heroes' lives, KJ blissed out in a lotus position on a picnic-table bench when he's not performing his effete little dances or intricately eccentric a cappella ditties, Jasper crouched and chainsmoking as he fumes over his defected girlfriend and maps out his Charles Bukowski–inspired novel in progress. But Baker is not the Coen Brothers winking at her little Lebowskis, one-time bandmates whose musical aspirations went up in the stoner smoke of inability to select a name. (The play's title was among those considered.) I don't mean to aggrandize the playwright, who sometimes carries the inertia so far that the audience can feel itself watching the paint flake, but it's as if Chekhov were manning the psilocybin-laced samovar behind the coffee shop.
An event — the less devastating of two — comes in the arrival of Evan, a tongue-tied 17-year-old barista who at first tries to shoo the duo off the property in accordance with the rules but becomes a little awed by these older souls basking in their outcast state. And they, compassionately if not a little goofily, give him their attention, what little wisdom they possess, and succor. There are arresting oddball moments in The Aliens — not least KJ's childhood-memory-induced journey through grief that takes the form of chanting the word "ladder" over and over. But taken as a whole, this small, wandering work beautifully captures the way in which adults, even stunted ones wrapped in no more than the glamour of their age, can influence those still inchoate, inarticulate, and suffering.