Spirit Control

More questions are inspired than answered in Spirit Control, a touching, yet confusing play by Beau Willimon, which struggles to combine the emotional and the supernatural and fails to do justice to either. Adam and Karl (Jeremy Sisto and Brian Hutchinson) work as air traffic controllers at Spirit Control (the name of their job is just the first of many heavy-handed illusions in the script). As the show opens, they are jovially exchanging workplace banter in between jobs. The mood quickly changes when they begin conversing with Maxine, a woman whose pilot has suffered a heart attack.

Maxine has no flying experience and the plane is running out of fuel, so Adam decides to tell her how to land the plane. He impressively handles the crisis, navigating her through the technique of flying while chatting with her in order to keep her calm. The intensity of the ten-minute sequence quickly becomes uncomfortable because it is clear that tragedy cannot be averted.

Sadly, as soon as the scene ends the play loses steam, rapidly decreasing from gripping intensity to tiresome melodrama. Adam refuses to see a therapist after the crash and rapidly becomes obsessed with the woman who died. His marriage suffers, as does his relationship with his son, and he becomes a recluse, clinging desperately to his past. The plot is predictable, and even though Sisto gives a compelling performance as Adam, even the best performance cannot rescue a play from a flawed script. The only twist in the show, if you can even call it that, is the identity of the Other Woman who aids in destroying Adam’s marriage.

As Adam’s friend, Hutchison is pleasant, and Maggie Lacey is little more than pleasant as his wife. The character is so blandly written that even a shouting match between the two is boring. Aaron Michael Davies plays Adam’s son, a young man with a large chip on his shoulder. And Mia Barron is fine as the mysterious Maxine, struggling to breathe some life into a character that is little more than a plot device.

Everyone tries in this cast, but no one is able to succeed in elevating the show beyond bland melodrama. Hoping for some kind of resolution, I found the ending is especially disappointing and predictable. Artful ambiguity is difficult to achieve and while Spirit Control put forth a valiant effort, it did not reach its goal.

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