Eleven years ago Jeremy Sisto (Law & Order) launched a successful TV career starring as Jesus in a CBS miniseries. And, by jingo, the man still suffers like a champ. In Spirit Control, from hot-blooded young playwright Beau Willimon (Farragut North), Sisto makes productive use of his thousand-mile stare and huggably scruffy everydudeness, playing Adam Wyatt, an air-traffic controller who’s haunted (the way middle-aged male martyrs in fiction tend to be haunted) by a single cataclysmic failure: One very, very bad day at work in 1985 diverts the happy burble of his life stream straight into the storm sewer.
Adam tries valiantly to blame the rest of his increasingly unhappy life on this catastrophe, but nobody’s buying it: not his generically distraught wife (Dividing the Estate’s Maggie Lacey), not his sour-patch teenage son (newcomer Aaron Michael Davies), certainly not his judgmental best friend and co-worker (Exit the King’s Brian Hutchinson)-perhaps not the playwright, either, though it’s tough to tell. Willimon, abandoning the rip-snorting red-meat and bang-bang plotting of Farragut, is in a more reflective mood here, making lavish use of magic and omen. (There is, as there tends to be, a Woman, played by The Coast of Utopia’s Mia Barron, who is Not What She Appears To Be-while simultaneously being exactly what we guess her to be, the moment she shows up.) I intuit something deeply personal in this material, but every aspect of Spirit Control (starting with but certainly not limited to its effort-ful title) points to a deep, sloppy wallow in musky self-pity and apocalyptic father-mongering. It’s a flight-simulator of a daddy play, possibly a test-run for something more interesting: Once again, we get glimpses of Willimon’s talent for sketching the diminishing American male, lost in the middle of a big, center-less country where the Cessna can no longer hear the tower. But as American tragedies go, this one feels like something Tom Petty jotted on a napkin, then left in his other jeans.