Spirit Control

by Beau Willimon
Directed by Henry Wishcamper
Featuring Mia Barron, Charles Borland, Maggie Lacey, Jeremy Sisto
MTC at City Center Stage I,  131 W. 55th  Street
production web site:

October 7, 2010 — ongoing

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 24, 2010

An absolutely riveting initial 20 minutes await you at MTC’s Spirit Control.  Air traffic controller Adam (Jeremy Sisto) at “Spirit of St. Louis” airport control tower (“Spirit Control”) in 1985 engages with small plane passenger Maxine (Mia Barron as off stage voice) who is forced to attempt to land the plane when the pilot is incapacitated.  Projections (Aaron Rhyne) takes us in at landing approach altitude toward a tower in the midst of rivers and trees (familiar to anyone who as lived in or flown into this part of the country).  The initial set is minimized to a deck behind which Adam and his colleague Karl (Brian Hutchison) stand, sipping coffee from a pot simmering on its burner at stage right, bantering before contact is made with the plane in distress.  Writing and performance of this breathless almost- monologue are gasp-worthy.  The balance of events and dramatic moments of this two act play do not, unfortunately, maintain this level of writing or coherence.

Initial action occurs in 1985, and we watch the effects of the event in the tower over the next 25 years on Adam and his family.  Wife Jess (Maggie Lacey), oldest of two sons Tommy we meet more than 10 years later (Aaron Michael Davies), his colleague Karl, a federal official (Charles Borland) who interviews Adam after the events in the tower, and a woman Adam meets in a bar that night (Mia Barron again).  The events that transpire within the family are familiar soap opera details, treated as reportage rather than evoked moments — marital stresses, an infidelity, resentful adolescent children, remarriages.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Movement directed by Henry Wishcamper on and off stage is efficient and sometimes creative.  Jeremy Sisto as the traumatized air traffic controller is riveting within the limits of the script.  Maggie Lacey as the wife is one note and not quite convincing — we don’t feel for her as her life is threatened.

This feels like a nicely adorned monologue with visions of the characters’ futures that don’t quite cohere as a play.  Perhaps staying in a single time frame and parsing nuances might better balance the boffo first scene.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 26, 2010)

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