FRINGE TORONTO: Icarus Redux, Review by Aurora de Pena

Icarus Redux

Written By Sean O'Neill

Directed by Sean O'Neill
Presented by Open Season Theatre

Featuring Jonathan Whittaker and Alex Fiddes

Presented at St. Vladimir's Theatre, 620 Spadina


Monday July 6th 3:15pm
Wednesday July 8th 8:00pm
Thursday July 9th 3:30pm
Friday July 10th 11:30pm
Sunday July 12th 12:45pm

Nika, Lauren, Laura, Sarah and I were watching the first instalment of Anne of Green Gables, splayed out on the sofa like exhausted cats. We all had tears in our eyes because of the scene in which Matthew gives Anne the ice-blue dress with exquisitely puffed sleeves and the two share a moment of deep here-to unexperienced father and daughter tenderness.

Every one our age knows this CBC mini-series front to back. It is part of language, and we all have crushes on Gilbert Blythe. Anne of Green Gables is embedded in our collective Canadian consciousness. It makes us all feel good about ourselves.

Nika and I, unable to tear our eyes away from the T.V., found ourselves running to St. Vladimir's Theatre with 5 minutes to spare (partially because I managed to convince her that the venue was definitely, definitely North of Harbord) on our way to Icarus Redux, which, as you might imagine, shares critical plot points with another story that has become embedded in our collective psyche, the story of Icarus, the boy with the waxen wings.

What is it about these myths that continue to fascinate? Icarus in particular is sad, morbid and hopeless. Icarus escapes Crete, the land to which he has been exiled, flying like an eagle on the aforementioned wings of his father's construct. His first taste of freedom makes him giddy, and he flies too close to the sun, which melts the wax that the wings are made of, sending him crashing into the ocean, ineffectively flapping his arms in an attempt to escape drowning.

It seems to suggest that an excess of freedom and lightheartedness will ultimately result in one's untimely and tragic demise. Better to stay captive.

It is not a democratic story.

Sean O'Neill's contemporary retelling gives us an Icarus whose imprisoning Crete is mental illness, and whose waxen wings are a relinquishing of the attempt to cure himself. The arc drifts back and forth between the son's reality and the father's, and at times it's difficult to tell whose world we are experiencing when. In my personal experiences with loving someone who is struggling with what their brain tells them and what everybody else tells them, this seamless drifting is pretty accurate, both for the lover and the lovee.

O'Neill's writing flips between T.S. Elliot style poetic and ferocious realism, which steeps the script in mystery, and Jonathan Whittaker and Alex Feddes as Dedalus and Son interact tenderly, viciously and hopelessly, shifting beat to beat.

I was caught off guard more than once by a hidden joke; what I like about O'Neill's writing, and his direction, is that he's not afraid to make the sad parts funny, even though they can be bitter. It's a survival tactic that we humans have to resort to every now and then, and humour is a key ingredient in any affecting tragedy, as tragedy is in any successful comedy, like Anne of Green Gables.

Though we live in a society that tells us we have control over our fate, and that we have the ability to rise above our circumstances, not all of us are capable. Many of us are still morbid, and many of us are still doomed. O'Neill's Son certainly is. The play starts with him dead, a figment of his father's imagination and, after an exploration of the events leading up to the circumstance, ends with him deader. The son is given a set of burlap and feather Icarus wings in the first half of the play. Designed by Brendon O'Neill, they are a grisly and ominous presence that for tell the fate of the character. Nobody strapped into those things is going to survive.

I have always been a little suspicious of any sort of contemporary "Redux" of a classic story. I have been subjected to too many hip-hoperas in my short life. These things run the risk of appearing more dated than their classical predecessors. O'Neill, however, must have, as his program notes suggested, begun with his own story and found parallels in the myth. He just does so in a way that is real and resonant with today's audiences. Skimming over the fancy parts and going straight to the broken heart of the story.

The reason that Icarus, and other dark tales from the Age of the Heroes have kept reappearing over the millenia has more to do with what we are sure of than what we hope for. We hope that we will find love, we hope that we will find joy, we hope that we will succeed. That's what a story like Anne of Green Gables shows us might be possible. It's possible that you may rise above your bitter circumstances and be loved by all who meet you.

It's possible, but you can't be sure.

The Greeks were much more fatalistic, and I believe, realistic. Even in love stories, like Helen's or Andromeda's, it's no gentle dream; people get raped, see their hometowns destroyed in flames, and are nearly ripped apart by vengeful sea monsters. The one thing they're sure of, beyond a doubt, is that we will cry. We come out of the womb crying and as we leave this world, with it's green trees and dark earth and drowning blue oceans, we leave cryers behind. We die, that's what we know. We knew it then and we know it now.

That is how the classical keeps popping up in the current, and that is what Sean O'Neill illustrates in Icarus Redux.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is a very thoughtful & well-written review.