by Jona Tarlin · October 30, 2014
Will Connolly, John Doherty | Hunter Canning
Maybe I am reading too much into the character of Kyle Sugarman (the play certainly invites it) but I bet that the Michael Mitnick who wrote Spacebar: A Broadway Play By Kyle Sugarman a few years ago is very different than the Michael Mitnick who gave it a polish for its New York Premiere at The Wild Project (now thru November 9th). Sitting in the audience on opening night (and bearing striking resemblance to a young Matthew Broderick) was the Michael Mitnick who wrote this year’s movie adaptation of The Giver and had a show, Fly By Night, performed Off-Broadway. I hope that Michael was able to watch this and smile, thinking how far he’s come.
This is a young playwriter’s play, to use the term Kyle cringingly prefers, and I think the Michael Mitnick of today might look back on it fondly, as one looks back on high school, so brash and headstrong with no real knowledge of the workings of the world and a desire to be someone. Remember then?
It could be argued that that was exactly what Mitnick was hoping to capture in his titular hero, Kyle Sugarman, who believes he has written the greatest (and girthiest) play ever: Spacebar. A play “not about the space key on the computer keyboard” but a bar, in space, set in the year 9003. In classic bildungsroman form, we follow Kyle’s journey from naiveté in Fort Collins, CO to almost-Broadway in New York City. Concurrently we also see Kyle’s sexual awakening with the captain of the swim team, Jessica.
The problem with Spacebar is Spacebar. Is it a masterpiece? Is Kyle deluded? The play never tells us. The scenes of play-within-play, as well as Kyle’s increasingly desperate letters addressed to “Broadway” make his dream seem impossible. Yet when he finally receives a return letter from “Broadway” the answer is we love the play and would like to have a reading. His subsequent journey in New York veers from wildly cartoonish, a producer asking on a street corner if anyone has any scripts, to realistic, Kyle getting his dreams, well, crushed. This wildly vacillating tone provides no answer as to how we’re supposed to take the play as well as the play.
The crushing is where the play shines. Since (again, pure speculation) it was written by a young playwright with a production or two under his belt but still hungry, still trying to make it, the wonderful scene in which Kyle leaves a series of increasingly disheartened voicemails to his mother about how the play is going feel exceptionally real and true. The heartbreak of a young man’s realizing his dreams and finding reality falls short of expectations was one of the most naked scenes of the play and the only time I empathized with the character.
As for Jessica (remember, the swimmer and virginity taker?) she was played well by Willa Fitzgerald but her storyline never forwarded the central story of a boy hurt by his ambition, and simply got in the way of the relationship we should have been paying attention to, the relationship between Kyle and his Father, Alan (Christopher Michael McFarland, excellent). That fact comes late in the play and since all we’ve seen of Alan is the monologue that opens the play and some wordless scenes involving a desk, a computer monitor, and a phone ringing, it really feels underdeveloped.
Spacebar is a playwright’s play; it’s jokes inside and full of barbs. As it’s target audience I should have identified with it more. Instead, I found myself unable to connect with a mirror-like character for much of the play.