“Alien” can be defined in many ways :“other,” “foreigner;” a feeling of not belonging, something unnatural. To alienate oneself is to separate oneself from what we know, to isolate. Any variation of “alien” almost always has a negative connotation and is a catalyst in the main character’s demise in the play “Recent Alien Abductions”.
As a person who tends to describe sci-fi as “not really my thing” I was initially going to decline the offer to see “Recent Alien Abductions,” a play, written by Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, that follows the story of a young Puerto Rican creative named Alvaro. Alvaro loves Puerto Rico. He’s unapologetically vocal about his support of Puerto Rico’s freedom, a “real Puerto Rican,” one who his mother says prefers to wear things that look like “Tainos made it.” From the beginning we, the audience, understand Alvaro is different. There’s a sense that Alvaro doesn’t fit in with his family; he isn’t like his brother, his only sibling. He is misunderstood. He is a traumatized young man.
So it’s no surprise Alvaro becomes obsessed with a discrepancy he notices the second time he watches the X- Files episode set in Puerto Rico. He realizes the ending has been altered. And this presents Alvaro, and inevitably the audience, with the overarching question: pero porque? But why? Why would they change the ending? Also: why does Alvaro care so much?
At the end of the original airing of the X-Files episode the main FBI agent (known as Mulder, in case you aren’t familiar with the show) has an amicable and trusting interaction with a young Puerto Rican boy, whose name is also Alvaro. The FBI agent and the Puerto Rican boy keep each other safe during a storm and possible alien abduction. Alvaro is enamored by this X-files episode ending even though he can tell it’s in fact NOT set in Puerto Rico. His fixation on this unlikely positive interaction between an FBI agent and a young Puerto Rican boy is understandable as he himself is a young man living in Puerto Rico, an island whose history is one of pain and suffering brought on by the United States. However, in the original airing of the Puerto Rico X-Files episode, the FBI agent and the boy save each other from impending doom. They trust each other. They save each other from the “aliens.”
When the episode re-airs, Alvaro realizes the ending was altered. The FBI and the young Puerto Rican boy do not keep each other safe at the expense of the boy. In this alternate ending the boy runs into the storm and the FBI agent, who originally escaped with the young boy, bears witness to the boy’s alien abduction. These are two drastically different endings and Alvaro finds the boy’s abduction both devastating and intriguing.
Alvaro, who inherently sees himself in the character because they share the same name, is deeply disturbed by the character’s alien abduction. It becomes difficult for him and the audience to differentiate between who he is, the real Alvaro, and the X-Files Alvaro, the one abruptly abducted by aliens. The real Alvaro displaces his emotions onto the X-Files Alvaro to avoid dealing with his own experienced trauma. The X-files episode and its alleged alteration is a medium through which Alvaro’s personal of trauma and pain is told. The alien abduction of the alternate Alvaro results in the alienation of the real Alvaro who soon after is explained to becomes “someone else” focused on physically separating himself from the island he loves and his family.
“Recent Alien Abductions” is a wonderfully written play by playwright Igancio that explores Puerto Rican identity, the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, and explores the experience of a young man who choose alienation to overcome trauma.