David Catlin, as director, and choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi get the credit for the beautiful flights of actresses suspended from long skeins of fabric, and for Mr. Catlin's sometimes artful directorial depiction of ancient legend. But as the author, David Catlin must take all the blame for the turgid prose that drags everything back to Earth again and again. Why the two Mr. Catlins never really stepped back to study what they were hearing on stage is anyone's guess. The often dull show does have a couple of anti-fugues, where actors in lab coats have compelling, overlapping modern speeches (doctors' notes, really)but otherwise, it's a filigreed and round-about affair: whether lithe performers are floating in circles above the stage, or just forced to make circuitous and forgettable comments about their plight.
Lawrence E. DiStasi is Daedalus, a cunning engineer of palaces and labyrinths, and also the father of the boy who flies too close to the sun (in this play, Daedalus also discovers the Bernoulli Effect some 2,000 years before Daniel Bernoulli himself). But the moment where everything starts to go awry (when he runs afoul of Minos the king) is so minimized that we barely notice Daedalus' own fall from grace, leading to the desperate plotting near the end. Mr. DiStasi and the rest of the cast do well with what they're giventhough Nicole Shalhoub must deliver endless condescension and hectoring as his wife. In her finger-wagging hands, the mild-mannered Daedalus soon becomes a castrated genius, continually harangued for daring to exploit his own great gifts, long before his son ever falls into the sea. And where real tragedy calls for hubris, Mr. DiStasi consistently gives us modesty. Where it demands mourners, we get nothing but scolding from his comparatively unremarkable wife. No wonder he ends up in the loony bin.
In that sense, this Icarus is the fullest realization of a gradually emerging sub-genre: the "upside-down" Jane Eyre, where the girl plays the cold, rough Rochester, and the boy plays poor little Jane. I've seen productions of musicals, Meet Me In St. Louis, and The King And I, that broached the reversal in an improvised sort of way, but here it's all there in the dialog as well as the direction. Sadly, it's not a great leap forward for either gender. And though it panders to a certain kind of female audience, it never gets beyond a simple, sexual revenge fantasy. God only knows what it says about men, but what it says about women isn't very flattering.
The show also gets plenty of mileage from its two bare-chested kings (Anthony Fleming III and an actor known only as Adeoye) who, along with Mr. DiStasi, proudly hold three actresses aloft to portray graceful birds against a huge projection of clouds and sky. But ultimately it's the author himself who falls, seeking to reach the heights of a Sophocles or a Shakespeare when just being David Catlin ought to be enough. He really should either a) put the whole thing into more convincing modern dialog, or b) convert the entire production into a ballet, with (perhaps) two narrators to carry the awful burden of pretentious storytelling. And, incidentally, he could probably lose the three little make-up cases that symbolize various "bundles of joy" and also make a mockery of the story. Even without them, to endure 90 minutes of crypto-Grecian declarations is enough to make anyone try to escape Earth's gravity well.
Through January 24, 2010, at 821 North Michigan Ave. For more information call (312) 337-0665 or visit them online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association