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A CurtainUp Review: Icarus

by Les Gutman

Beau: Some things are priceless.
Altagracia: Not priceless -- sacred.
---Edwin Sánchez

M. Ramírez-Cancio and I. Davila (Photo: Robert Ford )

When I reviewed Edwin Sánchez's Barefoot Boys With Shoes On last season, I made reference to the notion of a "Latino voice," a quality found in that play and also in Clean, another Sánchez's play that I'd reviewed a couple of years earlier. (Both are linked below.) Although the central characters in Icarus have Latin names, the playwright does not bear down on their background in this story, so we are left to appreciate the underlying voice that makes his plays so special. 

I saw Clean as a fairy tale-like meditation on love, executed by "turning it upside down and shaking". Icarus is about love as well, here fleshed out by an occasionally surreal meditation on dreaming: a bittersweet fairy tale about what we have and what we want. My verdict on Clean seems apt here as well: "It makes for a rich and original story, if not an especially easy one." In Edwin Sánchez we have an extraordinary playwright, not one who  makes things easy, but something far more admirable: poetic.

The original Icarus (for those of you who, unlike me, have never translated Ovid's story from Latin to English) was the son of Daedalus. The father fashioned wings of wax for the two of them to escape Crete, and carefully guided his son -- not near enough to the water that the wings would get wet, but not so close to the sun that the wax melts. But Icarus became excited by his new ability to fly and headed for the heavens, only to fall, bereft of wing, into the sea. 

Sánchez uses the myth as a point of reference, but this is not a modern retelling of it. His Icarus blends the worlds inhabited by five characters until they coalesce in a luminous statement on reality, illusion, ego and love. It possesses a gentleness that's off the radar of  most contemporary playwrights, perfectly at home with Sánchez and the Perry Como soundtrack with which it's married here.

The severely-disfigured Altagracia (Marlčne Ramírez-Cancio) has found a beach house, apparently abandoned for the off-season, into which she moves her wheelchair-bound brother, Primitivo (Ivan Davila), a swimmer. She encourages him by stoking his dreams of fame and fortune. Right now, that means having him swim into the ocean every day, aiming for the setting sun, while practicing for a future as a "celebrity". Altagracia also has a weird little man named Mr. Ellis (Tony Hamilton) in tow. He travels with a stuffed animal named Betty, and cynically carries around a valise filled with "dreams". But no dreamweaver he.

Beau (Matthew Gorrek), a friend of the owner of the house, arrives (wearing a ski mask said to hide the effects of a terrible accident). He is surprised to find the house occupied. After some negotiating, however, everyone remains. Instead of the solitude he was expecting, Beau ends up getting, and giving, some vigorous lessons. Expect not what you dream about, but achieve that about which you dare not dream.

In the house next door lives "the Gloria" (Ann Chandler), a would-be faded starlet who lubricates her illusions with alcohol. She sings a fascinating counterpoint, woven into the fabric of this story with elegance. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket...

The cast performs impeccably, Dennis Smith's direction is straightforward and effective and the relatively-modest set is purposefully and evocatively designed, as well as nicely lit. But the whole is far more than the sum of its parts, and this is a production more than worthy of being seen. 

CurtainUp's review of Barefoot Boy with Shoes On
CurtainUp's review of Clean
by Edwin Sánchez
Directed by Dennis Smith
with Marlčne Ramírez-Cancio, Ivan Davila, Tony Hamilton, Ann Chandler and Matthew Gorrek
Set Design: Andris Krumkalns
Lighting Design: Renée Molina
A production of Fourth Unity
Running time: 1 hours, 35 minutes with no intermission
Bank Street Theatre, 155 Bank Street (Washington/West Sts.) (212) 353-3837
Opened 12/3/2000, closes December 23, 2000 
Wed. - Sun. @8; $20 
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 12/2 performance

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