Island Fringe Festival:
It's a Spaceship Now
Review by Sean McQuaid
Your weary wordsmith managed to see all eight Island Fringe Festival shows this year, but I only saw one of them twice: It’s a Spaceship Now, a delightful one-man comedy written by and starring Rhode Island performer Stuart Wilson.
It's a show with technical issues, in more ways than one. The play includes recorded video segments in addition to Wilson's live performance and there were multiple audio malfunctions the first night I attended, though those problems were absent on the second night. In addition, the sight lines in the Kirk of St. James performance space were pretty dire by times, especially whenever Wilson was sitting or otherwise low to the ground.
But as Wilson's show repeatedly tells us, technical difficulties can be overcome — whether it's the above production glitches fading away in the glow of the play's sheer giddy entertainment value, or the bigger technical challenge of turning a discarded Soviet nuclear missile into a home-made space ship in your own backyard.
The latter challenge is the premise of It's a Spaceship Now, in which a fictionalized version of Wilson drifts through life as an under-employed, under-achieving underdog, a carefree artsy sci-fi fan who does most of his shopping in the trash. When he stumbles onto a de-nuked commie missile, he gets a crazy idea. Inspired by his mechanically gifted father and his favourite Star Trek character the android Data, Stuart decides to use the missile to fly into outer space.
His goals are actually pretty modest, no dreams of interplanetary glory here — he just wants to fly to outer space briefly and come back down without dying "the most lonely death in the history of humans." Even that is going to be pretty darn tricky on a slacker scavenger's budget, so Wilson walks us through the mechanics of his project, which involve high-tech resources like Ikea furniture, duct tape and flaming laser discs.
It's all ridiculous, but deliberately so. Wilson's greatest gift might be sharing that sense of ludicrous fun with his audience, the improvisational rapport he forms and sustains with a crowd. The play incorporates audience interaction aplenty, whether it's Wilson mixing up glasses of Tang (the beverage of astronauts!) for the patrons, passing around technical components for people to examine, using volunteers in his demonstrations, leading sing-alongs or conducting question-and-answer sessions, all good fun from start to finish.
Stuart's intentionally unconvincing technical jargon, deeply goofy musical interludes and often laughably primitive accessories blend with his mellow, self-deprecating humour to make this an undeniably silly but irresistibly charming show. There are even hints of deeper feeling amidst all the nonsense as Wilson works out some daddy issues and blends his child-like yearning for adventure with an adult ambition to achieve something, anything at long last.
After his last performance, Wilson said his favourite show of the festival might be Dawna Wightman's Life as a Pomegranate. A very worthy play indeed; but looking back at that lost Fringe weekend, I don't think any show made me smile or laugh quite as much as Wilson's gleefully absurd, weirdly touching space oddity. "Space is hella big," says stage Stuart in a typical sample of his scientific acumen, and so is this quirky little show's heart. That's why it's my festival favourite of 2016, laws of physics be darned.