Edwin Sanchez’s “Icarus“ is a gorgeous and very modern almost-adaptation of the Greek myth. Though the similarities between Sanchez’s production and the original Icarus are mostly thematic — the plot points are radically different — the myth provides a critical framework with which to understand the play’s subtext. The myth even manifests itself in the stage design: a large, golden sun, intermittently illuminated and darkened throughout the play, dominates the set.
The play shares its central themes with Ovid’s myth, and tells the story of five dreamers: Altagracia is obsessed with helping Primitivo, her wheelchair-bound younger brother, become a famous swimmer; the Gloria, a prototypical Hollywood actress who has fallen from favor but still seeks public recognition; Mr. Ellis, or Mr. E (or “Mystery”), who wants to forget his past; and Beau, a boy in a ski mask also running from his past. Despite apparent differences, all five characters have remarkable ambition, the desire to accomplish what seems impossible.
Altagracia and Primitivo imagine that one day, Primitivo will swim far enough into the ocean to touch the setting sun. The absurdity of this ambition is only heightened by the fact that Icarus himself did not aspire to touch the sun; he accidentally came close to it, and for that, he died. And yet Primitivo and Altagracia view the impossibility of the task as inspirational, not tragic. Both characters embody, in their own ways, the archetypal outcast: Primitivo is physically disabled and Altagracia has a severely scarred face. They are two Others whose dream to achieve the superhuman is, in a sense, merely a dream to prove their humanity.
A similar delusion affects the Gloria, who has the affect of a Hollywood actress without the success. Mikayla Harris ’17 beautifully plays the actress who is always acting, a role that involves layer upon layer of performance. Unlike Altagracia and Primitivo, the Gloria dreams of re-becoming the starlet she once was. She works to maintain and substantiate her dream-state; she has known fame and she isn’t ready to give it up.
The set embodies these themes of dream and illusion. The characters are divided — physically and, I would assume, metaphorically — by a piece of driftwood in the center of the stage. Throughout the play, Altagracia, Mr. E and Primitivo remain to the left. The Gloria and her house, with neither doors nor windows, are stage right. We see directly into her dressing room, where she puts on her mask — the make-up, wigs and gowns that transform her into the Hollywood bimbo. Though the Gloria is constructed, and therefore closed-off to the world, her house is ironically open. In a sense, we witness the creation of delusion. Primitivo’s beloved ocean is also stage right, in front of the Gloria’s house. A surreally vibrant blue line demarcates the sea, and, as Primitivo plunges painstakingly into the water to practice for his Herculean task, the sun lights up. But the sun is stage left, behind him — his dream is so impossible that he swims in the wrong direction.
Mr. E, who carries at all times a suitcase full of dreams that he pretends to sell to people, stands near the sun. When he opens his suitcase, eerie music begins to play and “Icarus” telegraphs an obvious message: Dreams are Mr. E-rious. Mr. Ellis is preoccupied with “not staring” at things, with avoiding the construction of memory. He seems the thematic opposite of the Gloria, Altagracia, and Primitivo — instead of inventing a future for himself, he erases the past.
The driftwood in the center of the stage creates two territories: No middle-ground exists between the two. There are no moderate characters; all of them build their identities from the past and future, never from the present. The play is truly about the construction of the self: what events, already happened or yet to come, will fill the autobiographies we one day recite? “Icarus” is an artistic and thoughtful exploration of this very human dilemma.