Wheelchair-bound no longer, ‘Icarus’ flies

“They’re nuts,” Beau says, referring to all the other characters in Edwin Sanchez’s “Icarus,” and the audience is tempted to agree that the characters really are nuts. A girl with a deformed face half-encourages, half-coerces a boy in a wheelchair to swim. A man with a briefcase talks to a stuffed cat. He writes fan letters to the boy in the wheelchair, who talks about attending Hollywood galas. As the play unfolds, however, the absurdity of the characters reveals fragile dreams, masked disappointments and a poignant attempt to hold on to life.

Icarus, directed by Lian Walden ’09 and produced by Alyssa Simmons ’09, is a Dramat Fall Ex, or experimental production. The play is based on the Greek myth of Icarus, the hero who flew towards the sun with wings of wax and became so enraptured that he flew too close and melted his wings. While Icarus the myth is traditionally interpreted as a symbol of poetic aspiration and the pursuit of dreams, Sanchez’s “Icarus” adds a new layer to the myth by connecting dreams to disappointments, and the beauty of poetry to ugly realities.

Primitivo (Steven Kochevar ’09), the boy in the wheelchair, lives on a dream. He is Icarus: Believing he can touch the sun by swimming far enough, he spends his days in training. His sister Altagracia (Alexandra Trow ’09) perpetuates this illusion by saying he will become a celebrity when he touches the sun. She helps him prepare his victory speech, and teaches him the etiquette of celebrity parties. Their routine is altered by the arrival of Beau, a beautiful man trying to escape from his destructive beauty by hiding behind a mask. As a strange bond forms between Altagracia and Beau, the imaginary world of Primitivo and Altagracia is called into question. The themes of beauty and dreams are further developed through the characters of The Gloria, a fading actress whose only strength lies in the beauty she once possessed, and Mr. Ellis, a dubious character who claims to possess a box of dreams.

Kochevar is a marvelous Primitivo; his supreme control over his limbs in the awkward moves of a cripple is as powerful as his control over the frequent mood swings of his character, ranging from distrust, jealousy and loneliness to hope and elation. Trow depicts a bittersweet Altagracia whose gentleness is hidden behind the mask of not just deformity, but an intentional harshness. There is a certain lack of chemistry between her and Beau, although it could be attributed to the awkwardness of the characters rather than to the acting.

“Icarus” features moments of irrepressible laughter, like the instances of Primitivo’s deluded Hollywood glamour. When Altagracia tells him the paparazzi have arrived, Primitivo screeches, “Blood-sucking leeches!” There are also moments of poignant emotion, when Primitivo’s despair shines through this delusion. However, sometimes the transition from comic to painful is abrupt and unnatural.

The color changes of the scrim, on the other hand, smoothly reflect the mood onstage. As a tranquil blue fades slowly into periwinkle, then to salmon and glides through sunset tones to a burning orange, the play reaches its dramatic climax.

Through characters that are slightly more colorful, more interesting, more tragic than the average human, “Icarus” displays human flaws, human dreams and human failures. If this is what it means to be nuts, then maybe we are all nuts.

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