"The Flight of Icarus" certainly looks like comedy. There are mistaken identities, wacky disguises, even a subplot about lady's bloomers. Why, then, do the play's two hours pass so slowly? Why do the sight gags and one-liners never add up to funny?
“The Flight of Icarus” certainly looks like comedy. There are mistaken identities, wacky disguises, even a subplot about lady’s bloomers. Why, then, do the play’s two hours pass so slowly? Why do the sight gags and one-liners never add up to funny?
The French literary theory can’t help. The play is based on Raymond Queneau’s 1968 novel, which explores the nature of narrative when a character named Icarus flees from his author’s book and goes adventuring in 1890s Paris. His author hunts him down, but Icarus — along with several other escaped characters — would rather be free. Can they now write their own stories, or have their identities already been defined? Are all of us in the same trap?
Those questions could give you a headache, but Queneau softens them with ridiculous antics. He even writes the novel like a play script, as though begging to have his absurdity staged.
But this production — directed by Samuel Buggeln from a script by Aaron Mack Schloff — misses the action in Queneau’s ideas. Instead, it sags from too much thinking.
Take the acting: The thesps plays a variety of fools, from a detective who hunts for Icarus while wearing an enormous fake beard to a trio of novelists who brag that nothing happens in their books. Their scenes could be charming, particularly when characters get drunk on absinthe or steal cars they don’t know how to drive.
But the cast overplays, pointing out the moments that are meant to be funny. As one of the novelists, for instance, Wayne Alon Scott enters with lips pursed, eyes bulging and head jerked back. Drawing out every vowel, he takes hours to say his lines, and his movements are glacially slow. Rather than a character, he becomes an actor performing his idea of a pompous idiot.
The obvious labor in the performances suggests actors who want to be clever, even if it means being clunky.
Cleverness also clogs the script. Schloff includes multiple scenes that lack dramatic conflict, as in a moment when Icarus (David Michael Holmes) stumbles into a bookshop and gets a lecture on the science of motion. In a book this diversion could coast on wordplay, but onstage it massacres momentum.
Worse yet for pacing, Buggeln ends almost every scene with a blackout, followed by actors dragging on furniture. This stuttering rhythm puts unfair pressure on each new moment to regain our attention once the lights come back.
Icarus may keep running from the folks who want to send him back to his novel, but neither his flight nor the theories it implies can develop with so many interruptions.