Stu is on a mission to repurpose a forsaken Soviet missile into a functioning spacecraft. He’s going to space. For fuel, Stu will harness the combustion power of Seasons 1 & 2 of “Battlestar Galactica” on DVD. The right chair and the right seatbelt are crucial. All Stu wants to do is circle the Earth’s orbit – to be in space if even by lame technicality. The Wilbury Group’s inaugural production of their New Works Development program, It’s a Spaceship Now, is unlike any show you’ve seen. I can assure you that.
I realized what kind of play this was when the show came to a truck stop pause and Stu gave out fresh coffee to the audience. He served about nine people, and the play did not resume until each one had mug in hand. Halting the production to distribute hot coffee was but the first of many moments of fun and whimsical weirdness in Spaceship.
“This show is about a man who is trying to do something big in his life … he’s trying to create something noteworthy … It’s very autobiographical,” said writer/conceptual director/performer Stuart Wilson. The show is set in Providence. Both protagonist Stu and the actor Stu share the same name, family history, tastes and preferences. He likes sci-fi, drinking and complicated lists. This is exactly the type of person you’d expect to dabble in DIY rocket science. The concept of Spaceship hardly does the production justice. It’s the potpourri of artistic design that makes it so fascinating.
My favorite thing about Spaceship was the sheer multimedia experience. The story was at times a PowerPoint presentation, a model rocket on a zip line, and sometimes a hip-hop anthem. At one point, Stu (dangerously) opened up the floor for Q&A from the audience. There were graphs and a photojournal and probably the best use of Kurt Russell in any production. It’s a clip from Escape From L.A. where Kurt Russell kills three men at some sort of smoldering garbage dump. In no way was that necessary to include in the show, but I truly appreciate that it was.
This was the first ever production of It’s a Spaceship Now. This show was workshopped and retooled over a period of months. “I don’t always think the world makes sense, but my play has to make sense,” said Wilson. From an audience perspective, you can see that building a spaceship indeed makes perfect sense to Stu (the character), but the play sometimes moved faster than the crowd could digest. That’s likely a consequence of Spaceship being a one-man show. Dialogue sometimes suffered from being too thick with info, or confusingly irrelevant. The audience had a hard time reconciling what was supposed to be funny and what was earnest. Maybe a couple more characters could have helped raise the stakes and diffuse the burden of the dialogue. But then again, “one man space musical” sounds a lot better than just “space musical.”
In a fucked up way, I felt like I was seeing my life story in this show. Stu asks himself, “What if this doesn’t work?” I ask myself that question a lot, though that’s the nature of having a liberal arts degree from a shitty state school. Reservations aside, Spaceship pulled a Wilbury and left an indelible impression on me.
Sooner or later, all of us have our “big thing.” That all-or-nothing, now-or-not adventure that alters the course of our lives, redeems our past failures, and sets us up for success … hopefully. For guys like Stu, it’s about next level aeronautics, skull crushing g-force and epic clips of Kurt Russell. For the actual Stuart Wilson, it just might have been doing something personal, fun and fearless. It’s a Spaceship Now was whatever the hell it wanted to be, and that was cool.