"You are all amazing. You all have vast untapped potential. You all have a future."
With that mantra, so begins "Space" at Hollywood's Stella Adler Theatre. Stefan Marks' promising look at a man returning home from 30 years in a mental institution is still forming, but then, so is its fascinating protagonist.
Meet black-and-white movie musical fan Kurt (author Marks, who also directs and designed the symbolist set). His dysfunctional family history is behind his mercurial thought processes and carving-knife threat on Mom (Rachel Parker).
Abandoned at age 9 by Dad (Michael Matthys), who left in a hot air balloon, Kurt has been in asylum since age 19.
Now he's ready for discharge, assisted by Ann (Samantha Smart), the hospital facilitator charged with his reintegration. There are myriad obstacles to his dream of making a movie musical and instant infatuation with a resistant Ann, not least his own constantly shifting perspective.
And then there's antipathetic Mom, who has her own issues. Such as seeming visibly younger than her 49-year-old offspring, her lifelong obsession with the sun's eventual burnout or her apparent ambivalence to Kurt's predicament.
It's a heady concept, part Sartre, part Durang, and when "Space" clicks, it rides an impressive line between dark screwball comedy and sweeping metaphysical study. The designs are resourceful, especially the witty video elements, and the cast goes for broke, with Parker recalling the emerging Kate Nelligan, Matthys reliably intense and Smart a cheeky straight-faced find.
But while Marks' loopy physicality, hairpin turns and verbal dexterity are arresting, his multiple hats result in a bumpy trek toward the effective twist ending. The text swims in list speeches and thematic zigzags that could be trimmed without a loss of content, particularly the overlong Act 1. The few musical numbers suggest that a "Next to Normal"-style tuner may be lurking within.
Still, even if an outside eye and scissors are needed, "Space" is no mere work-in-progress either, and there's much to appreciate in its undeniably original mindscape.
Where: Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd Floor, Hollywood.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Aug. 20.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Info: (747) 777-2878, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2565920.
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