Summer of the Aliens is Louis Nowra’s semi-autobiographical coming of age play about a 14 year old boy who is obsessed with flying saucers, UFO abductions and imagines aliens are invading the earth. The boy, Lewis, was destined to appear again in one of Nowra’s most popular plays, Cosi.

Director Amy Moss is passionate about this play. In fact, she loves it! It is a long time attraction for Moss who first encountered the play when she was a cast member in a performance done in the late 90’s when she was just a teen and still at university.

“Further to that though, Louis Nowra has always been one of my most favourite Australian playwrights. I just love how Nowra has a way of balancing the dark and tragic with humour and heart, he does it in all his work so superbly. He also has a way of making the audience feel like they are in on the joke, not just witnessing it.”

“I love this play for many reasons. The characters are zany and comical at times, yet has real, gritty elements and characters that I love in my theatre experiences. I also can relate to Lewis, like him I was reluctant to enter the adult world, it seemed complicated and I didn’t want to give up my make believe games and sense of play, it is little wonder I ended up in the performing arts as an adult.”

The play is now running at Off The Leash Theatre who are renowned for their gutsy dramatics.

“At Off The Leash Theatre our last 3 shows have been The Boys by Gordon Graham; Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket and an original piece by Jeannie Haughton, Better is Peace, a play about local Anzac stories,” says Moss. ” I felt we had had some pretty dark and heavy stuff, which is not unusual for Off the Leash but I felt we needed to add a bit of comedy, a bit of heart into the season. A coming of age tale set in Melbourne seemed like an excellent fit.”

Nowra is one of Australia’s most performed playwrights with his work often focussed on profound change and political unrest. This play is no different, exploring the 1960’s during the Cuban missile conflict “… so the idea that something terrible, and life changing is about to happen is an excellent backdrop for a coming of age story,” says Moss. ” I guess there are lots of themes in the play, everything from the typical coming of age type narratives, like first love and family conflicts. But it delves deeper with themes of racism, abandonment, suicide and sexual abuse of children.”

“There is a huge amount of racist dialogue in Summer of the Aliens directed at immigrants and I find this particularly important. At times during rehearsal I have questioned whether anything has changed since 1962 in our nations treatment of non-English speaking immigrants.”

“The work for the most part has themes regarding reflection. It really is a story about how a man reflects on one defining summer of his youth, the audience has an opportunity to understand why a grown up Lewis is the way he is.”

“The reason the play is called Summer of the Aliens is that the young Lewis is obsessed with spotting a UFO, as the play progresses Lewis grows to understand that the adult world, the world around him, his own neighbourhood is just as alien, as strange and bizzare as anything from outter space.”

Moss agrees that Australian plays are important to the Australian psyche – they speak to who, when and where we are. Many companies prefer American or English plays but Off the Leash Theatre are dedicated to presenting Australian works as much as they can.

“We are a young company and have only produced about 12 productions, only 2 have been non-Australian,” explains Moss. ” I think it is incredibly important to have our own stories on stage, Audiences love watching themselves, they want to see our own stories. We are also committed to presenting original work as much as possible too. We aim to produce something new and original every 2 years.”

“I will always want more Australian works in theatres, I don’t think it is ever possible to produce too much. We have fabulously talented playwrights and theatre makers in this country and we need to celebrate them. I suppose in a lot of ways, we as a regional based company, often have to compete with the idea that if you want to see a good piece of theatre you need to travel into Melbourne, it simply isn’t the case. Australian works possibly suffer the same attitudes, but have to compete with internationally acclaimed plays. I hope that we are getting over our cultural cringe.”

The project is a collaborative work between Off The Leash Theatre and FabNobs – Moss explains: “Our collaboration with FabNobs came about when the lovely, Leane Gooding contacted our company. She is a life member of FabNobs and has huge amounts of behind the scenes theatre experience. She had recently moved to West Gippsland and was keen to get involved in local theatre, find her new tribe so to speak. She googled the sort of work we were doing and saw that we don’t do work that is too pedestrian. I think we offered her a new challenge. She joined our committee and has been invaluable ever since. She suggested that we take Summer of the Aliens to FabNobs and we jumped at the chance. I hope that a new partnership can flourish between Off The Leash Theatre and FabNobs and that the partnership can work both ways.”

“We at OTLT have been touring our shows to various parts of Gippsland for the last few years. We are finally entering into the metro area. We had been talking about doing it for a while. Many of our actors are Melbourne based. In the last few years almost every show we have done has had at least one performer based in Melbourne. Our pool of actors is increasingly expanding into the metro area, as people realise that it is only a little over an hour drive out of the city to get to Warragul, many Melbourne performers think nothing of traveling the same time to places within the city. We produce not only plays that audience want to see but also plays that actors want to be in.”

Summer of the Aliens is Nowra at is best. Set in Melbourne, it is immediately recognizable, speaking in a language that is special for and to us.

Says Moss: “I think that the play is very funny and rich in experiences it gives the audience. If you love Cosi, then you will love it’s ‘prequel.’ It is definitely a play that the baby-boomers will love. They will be able to remember fondly their own childhood and own recollections of 1962-63. But everyone loves a coming of age story, we have all been teenagers at some point and our childhood memories always seem to be set in summer when adventures were to be had.”

West Gippsland Arts Centre, August 28, 29, September 12
FabNobs Theatre Bayswater, September 5
Photo: Lauren Murphy