Directed by Maggie Burrows
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited
You remember that kid from high school? The one who was totally obsessed with Broadway, who had written their own play, with a near encyclopedic knowledge of playwrights, musicals, and Tony Award nominees? Well, Michael Mitnick has written a show about him; and his name is Kyle Sugarman.
The play opens in heart rending fashion as a young Kyle’s father informs him his sister died in a swimming accident. Fast-forward to the present day as the sixteen-year-old Kyle emerges with a play, and an impassioned plea to Broadway. He wants them to produce his lurid monstrosity of a play about a futuristic bartender (aptly named “Spacebar”). Snippets of the amateurishly-written space opera are interspersed amid Kyle’s continuing letters Broadway, as well has his budding romance with Jessica, captain of the girls’ swim team. Eventually Kyle makes it to Broadway, and his real intention emerges. Not to make it big as a playwright, but to finally make an impact on his delinquent father.
Despite a delightful premise, “Spacebar” lamentably runs out of charm. The play is quagmired with shortcomings, most crippling of which is the tedious relationship between Kyle and Jessica. It’s undecipherable why the lazily-written Jessica wants so badly to deflower the young Mr. Sugarman. Potential romance is vampirized by unnecessary reflection and the author’s refusal to write Jessica as anything other than a sounding board. Despite Actress Willa Fitzgerald’s valiant effort as the swim captain, the pair never has the spark they need to captivate.
Lead actor Will Connolly is endearingly magnetic as the cuddly Kyle. His head is so adorably in the clouds it’s hard to notice his character’s wild inconsistence. At some points Kyle knows all there is to know about Broadway (mostly when he needs to make a joke at its expense) and at other times he’s so oblivious he refers to playwrights as ‘play writers.’ (Also, conveniently, when he needs to make a joke.)
And what dreary jokes they are. For all his jabs at “Fraiser,” Mitnick could stand to watch a few episodes. Although most of the upending humor directed at Broadway hits the mark, when your best joke of the second half involves the vaguely Eastern-European actress owning a goat, you know you’re in hot borscht.
Finally, there are just too many cooks in the kitchen. Spacebar struggles to do too much with too little. Director Maggie Burrows can’t seem to find a rhythm as the style, storyline, and mood of the piece turn hurriedly on a dime. The fate of Kyle’s play, his relationship with Jessica, his grief over his sister, and his struggle for his father’s attention can’t all come to fruition in ninety minutes, especially with so many potshots and stylized satire to get through.
Not that Broadway doesn’t have plenty to Lampoon, but these decidedly amateur, over-referential, despondently quirky comedies of the Off Broadway could use a send up all their own. It’s easy to poke fun at such an imperfect institution, but plays like “Spacebar” are case-in-point why theatergoers are loathe to try something different.