Disproving the oft-suggested notion that a playwright should never direct his own work, Stefan Marks not only scores a double bulls-eye at the Stella Adler; in never leaving the stage as Space’s riveting protagonist, the Ovation Award-winning director-writer-actor proves himself a bona fide triple-threat in this brain-teasing dazzler of a play.
Marks stars as 49-year-old Kurt Finge, only just now released from the mental institution he’s called home for the past three decades since a knife-related incident convinced him he needed a time-out from his passive-aggressively controlling mom.
Not that Kurt was the first in his family to feel the need to distance himself from Mrs. Fringe (Rachel Parker), Mom’s husband having quite literally flown the coop on his wife’s fortieth birthday (by hot air balloon no less), never to be seen or heard from again.
Drop-dead gorgeous Ann (Samantha Smart) is the “acclimator” assigned to help him reintegrate into society, specifically in matters relating to the “human shit” she calls Huminutiae, also the name of a cell phone app she’s developed and which she’ll be teaching Kurt to use once he’s been adequately schooled on texting, social media, and other technological-societal changes the past thirty years have wrought.
One thing Kurt doesn’t need any help with is deciding what to do with the rest of his life. He plans to write, direct, and star in a Oscar-winning 1940s-style black-and-white movie musical. (He’s even got his “Thank you Mom” acceptance speech planned.)
Now all Kurt has to do is to get the ball rolling.
And that’s about all I dare let slip about Marks’ intricately plotted Chinese puzzle of a play, one with at least as many unexpected reveals as the ones scenic designers Marks and Mark Svastics have in store for audiences behind curtain after curtain, a production design rendered almost entirely in glorious black-and-white save one Wizard Of Oz-inspired bit of the rainbow.
It’s not just Space’s color palate that gives Marks’ play an air of surreality. Ann may have developed the latest in cell phone software, but her clothes (high marks to Paula Higgins), hair, and makeup, even her seamed stockings are straight out of the 1940s as are Kurt’s wide lapels and ties, and though thirty years have passed since her son’s institutionalization, Mom looks as young as she was when last Kurt saw her.
Mother and son’s fascination with the sun’s imminent death billions of years hence, the countless sandwiches Kurt consumes during his lunch meetings with Ann, conversations with a long-deceased highball-guzzling father … all of these give Space a fantastic quality that may either be stylistic or the method behind seeming madness.
Suffice it to say that Space held me captivated throughout. There’s humor. (Ann schools Kurt on social media sites like Virtual Tombstone, just what you need when yet another friend meets his or her maker.) There’s romance (of the seemingly impossible kind). There’s even song-and-dance (music by Marks, which increases his “threat” total to five) to do Astaire and any of his onscreen partners proud.
Performances could not be better, beginning with a pair of star turns from the quirkily handsome, crankily appealing Marks and from an absolutely stunning Smart. (Think a young Jennifer Connelly in both beauty and acting chops and you’ll understand why Kurt and I were both immediately smitten.) And there is memorable supporting work being done by both Parker and Matthys as well.
Svastics’ imaginative lighting adds to Space’s magical realism, with extra-special snaps to Stephen Epstein (animation and multimedia design), Ron Wood (QLAB 3 design), and Victoria Goodman (digital artists) for some rather extraordinary projections I’ll refrain from describing. (Just go see them.)
Space is presented by Crooked Arrow Productions. Cutter Mitchell is stage manager. Marks is technical director. (Make that sextuple threat.) Joel Flynn plays Dad on July 30 and August 4, 5, and 6.)
I was at the Ovations in 2011 when Stefan Marks won two, for best lead actor and for best original script for Hello, and vowed that next time round, I would not miss whatever this contemporary Orson Welles had up his sleeve. Space has me more than delighted I could keep that promise.
Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood.
July 28, 2016
Photos: Bryan Wriggle