Arts » Theater

Hot and Bothersome

Icarus' bright dialogue gets singed by symbolism.


It's probably a rule that successful people must be possessed of both arrogance and insecurity. And how those opposing qualities are balanced determines the success of their ventures; suffice it to say that when only one of those qualities is in evidence -- say, arrogance without insecurity (e.g., our President) or insecurity without arrogance (e.g., everyone else) -- the results are unfortunate.

Take playwright Edwin Sanchez's Icarus, now being performed by Cleveland's most offbeat theater company, Convergence-Continuum. He weaves some splendidly terse and realistic dialogue around an interesting theme, but there is so much symbolic baggage to carry that the effort runs out of steam. In this case, Sanchez has the arrogance to boldly and directly explore issues of love and self-worth, but his anxiety that the audience won't get the message diminishes the thrill of discovery.

Written in the form of a modern myth, Icarus depicts the story of Altagracia and Primitivo, an impoverished sister and brother who become squatters in a small cottage on an unnamed beach. Primitivo, although wheelchair-bound, is apparently a world-class swimmer, and his facially disfigured sister is training him to swim so fast, he'll "touch the sun" that bobs tantalizingly on the morning horizon. They are accompanied by a mental defective, Mr. Ellis (Clyde Simon), who tends to Betty, his stuffed cat, and is given to obsessive recitations ("I'm not staring, I'm not staring. Am I staring?").

This flawed trio is soon joined by Beau, a man in a stocking mask, who claims to have been horribly mangled in a car accident. There's also a beach neighbor, who looks and acts like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, and is called, appropriately, "the Gloria." In the first act, Sanchez and director Caleb J. Sekeres create a series of telling moments that seems to presage interesting events. Altagracia (a no-nonsense Jovana Batkovic) is quick-witted and dedicated to fostering the fantasy of her brother's impending fame -- even to the point of rehearsing him in candid photo ops. Meanwhile, the never-was diva the Gloria, given a razor-sharp portrayal by Lucy Bredeson-Smith, keeps the real world at arm's length. "You can catch my movies on cable in Puerto Rico," she coos with demented pride.

But the refreshingly genuine and teasing relationship between brother and sister disintegrates in act two under the weight of too many rib-nudging symbols. Mr. Ellis, who is referred to as Mr. E (mystery, see?), has an actual suitcase full of dreams, which he snaps shut whenever anyone gets interested. And Beau (Geoffrey Hoffman) becomes the obvious flip side of Altagracia's damaged coin when he reveals both his face and his love for her. Never one to leave anything to chance, Sanchez spells out the meaning of Alta and Primi's relationship, just to make sure any stragglers in the audience haven't wandered off.

If Sanchez pulled the unnecessary references to touching the sun (we get it -- it's in the freaking title!), Primi and Beau's forced swimming contest, and some clunky poetry ("A dream stands between you and reality"), Icarus could have avoided another meltdown.

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