The Flight of Icarus
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 26, 2006
In The Flight of Icarus, a writer named Hubert Lubert loses one of the characters in the new novel he's working on. Literally. On his way in to a dalliance with his mistress Mme. de Champvaux, Lubert leaves his manuscript open on his desk. A wind comes up and blows his protagonist, Icarus, right out of the book. Lubert returns to find his novel without a central character, and Icarus discovers himself footloose and fancy free in the middle of 1890s Paris.
Lubert is unable to continue his project without his hero, and so after consulting with his friends/fellow novelists Surget, Jacques, and Jean, he decides to hire the detective Morcol to track down his fictional creation. Morcol, a sort of thinking man's Inspector Clouseau, doesn't provide much help to Lubert, and instead helps stir up some of the characters in the other writers' books, sending them fleeing the pages of their novels and onto the streets of Paris.
As for Icarus, he quickly finds love in the person of a prostitute-turned-dressmaker named LN, and eventually realizes his destiny (the one his name portends) as an auto mechanic and then a nascent aviator. Morcol gives up detecting and the other novelists' characters come to their senses (as it were) and return to their books. Lubert learns a little something and the story ends neatly.
I've not read the Raymond Queneau novel on which this new play by Aaron Mack Schloff is based, but I'll bet it's a dilly. Schloff's script is charming and witty, never crossing the line into whimsicality or preciousness (though both are flirted with). LN's back story is delivered a bit hazily—apparently she's a refugee from a crossword puzzle, but I never quite understood what that actually meant. But most of the fantastical/surreal elements are well-managed in Schloff's play, and the central tension between a creator's free will and that of the creation is nicely balanced.
But the production that director Samuel Buggeln has mounted for the Soho Think Tank of this script feels heavy-handed and ponderous, I'm afraid. Some of what I witnessed may be attributable to opening night technical difficulties, but overall the pacing of the piece is far too slow and the performances far too broad to capture the admittedly delicate quality that the play seems to call for. Transitions between the many scenes, during which a few pieces of scenery are moved on or off the main playing area, stop the proceedings cold; elimination of them (and they seem unnecessary: couldn't all of the set pieces be arrayed permanently around the deep Ohio Theatre stage?) would probably trim 20 minutes off the total (much too long) running time of 2-1/2 hours.
None of the actors seems comfortable in his/her role, with the notable exception of David Michael Holmes, who strikes me as exactly right as the earnest naif Icarus. Particularly problematic are Michael Nathanson as Morcol and Kate Hampton as Mme. de Champvaux, both of whom seemed to be playing in a slapstick melodrama rather than the light-hearted intellectual farce that Schloff has written.
A lot of care has clearly gone into creation of an unnecessarily complicated set (by Kanae Heike) and lush period costumes (by Kate Cusack).
The Flight of Icarus has real potential to soar (pun intended, sorry); but I think the creative team needs to throw away a lot of what they've assembled for this developmental run at Ice Factory '06, return to their text and the source material that inspired it, and find their bearings in the ephemeral fantasia that this show feels like it really wants to be.