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A CurtainUp Review
Daedalus: A Fantasia of Leonardo Da Vinci
by Kathryn Osenlund

Think outside the hexahedron
The world premiere of Daedalus, written by David Davalos and directed by Aaron Posner, is now at the Arden Theatre. In its general conception, it is reminiscent of Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Picasso and Einstein) and the lesser-known Handful of Rain (Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas). The playwright places contemporaries in situations where they are thrust together and takes off from there, imagining what they might have said and done. That said, this play is a lot thinner than the other two.

Leonardo Da Vinci (Greg Wood) explores his artistic side, his scientific side, his feminine side, alchemy, weaponry, various inventions, love, and pacifism. The character is very "self actualized" for 1502.

The play has the language of parody, but it's not exactly a parody. There is a lot of amusing word play and little anachronistic jokes. There's also narration where Niccolo Machiavelli (Scott Greer), goes on and on to fill characters in (and us), explaining background very fast. So fast you can't really get it. At one point Leonardo says to him, "I'm sorry you must forever play the narrator with me". Yeah. Me too. But the background doesn't really matter because the story is just something on which to hang jokes.

Beyond the narrator function, Niccolo is an appealing character with funny lines, like "Morality and politics? Oil and water." Or is that not funny? Peter Pryor, always a delight to watch, delivers a freewheeling if surface-bound performance as Cesare Borgia. He, too, gets good lines. "I love treason, but I hate traitors"" is one example.

This play is hard to pigeonhole. It's a cross between a history play and an SNL skit. It takes a little getting used to because it seems contrived and put on. Isabella (Julie Czarnecki) says, "Oh, come on. Don't be so melodramatic!" And you think, "Exactly."

It's hard to accept Machiavelli in a sidekick role, even if the real Machiavelli did partially model The Prince on Cesare Borgia, whom he admired in some ways. Monica Koskey as Lucretia Borgia is certainly on the ball and alive, if a bit hyper. Grace Gonglewski as Lisa di Tirisio, the "cousin," acts in a more naturalistic and lighter style than the others, which doesn't always jive. You just want to hug the grizzly General Vitelli (Buck Schirner) who's such a teddy bear you can't be scared by his tough talk.

Greg Wood has been seen in so many productions in Philadelphia, and particularly at the Arden, that he's like a Richard Chamberlain. Remember the old days, when you thought that all historical figures looked like Richard Chamberlain? In fact, most of the actors in this play are well known to Philadelphia audiences. We've seen all of them in several productions at the Arden and elsewhere in the city, except for out-of-towner Monica Koskey.

Aaron Posner, who directed this play, also serves as president on the board of directors of the Philadlephia Fringe Festival, which just finished its successful run. He sets a good pace, blocks very well and makes good use of the stage space.

The staging is attractive and well suited to the play, with arches surrounding a circular set which is decorated with large renditions of Leonardo's drawings from his notebook. Just one faux pas: Fake grapes are used at the start. Hey, can't they afford real ones? James Leitner's lighting design is subtle and effective. The music is attractive, but it blends so perfectly with the action that some audience members I spoke to didn't notice it at all.

The playwright has said that he intended Daedalus to reflect heavy dualities and to echo our society's similar problems 500 years later. It's disappointing that there's not enough substance to back it up, with everything taking second place to the comedy. Daedalus is entertaining and it has its theatrical moments, but ultimately comes across as a skit that wanted to be serious theater.

Daedalus: A Fantasia of Leonardo Da Vinci
Playwright, David Davalos
Directed by Aaron Posner
Cast: Greg Wood, Buck Schirner, Scott Greer, Peter Pryor, Julie Czarnecki, Monica Koskey, Grace Gonglewski
Scenic Design: Tony Cisek
Lighting Design: James Leitner
Sound Design: James Sugg
Costume Design: Margaret K. McCarty Running time approx 2 hrs and 30 mins with one 15 min intermission
9/12/02-11/03/040; opening 9/18/02
Arden Theatre, 40 North 2nd Street, 215.922.8900

Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 9/21 performance
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