by Kilian Melloy
Saturday May 18, 2013
'Daedalus' flies away after tonight, so catch it while you can: At the Cambridge Y
'Daedalus' flies away after tonight, so catch it while you can: At the Cambridge Y  (Source:Liars & Believers)

The newest original work from Liars & Believers (LAB) includes a plethora of entertainments all rolled into a single comprehensive evening's diversion. There's a fortune teller (no worries; she promises a "happy ending" to her prognostications), a sketch artist, paintings for sale, and temporary tattoos. There's also live music (one local band performs a set each night of the two-night run), and... well... a burlesque show put on, by -- of all things -- "The Fiji Mermaid," also known as Busty Keaton of Rogue Burlesque.

And that's all before the main attraction, a new musical titled "Icarus" that re-visits the myth of Daedalus and his son through the grimy lens of Depression-era dust bowl America.

There's a second live band for the play, which boasts crackling music and whip-smart lyrics by Nathan Leigh. The story -- conceived and workshopped by LAB Artistic Director Jason Slavick in collaboration with the troupe's members, and then shaped into a script by Slavick -- deconstructs the story of how the inventor Daedalus created wings of wax in order to achieve free flight, only for his son, Icarus, to take the wings on a joyride and venture too close to the sun, with tragic results. As reconstituted by Slavick and his LAB collaborators, the story becomes one of youthful self-determinism versus the desire of parents to clasp too tightly to their children.

Daedalus (Steven Emanuelson) has found employment with a traveling show called Minnie Minoseczeck's Menagerie of Marvels, an old-fashioned carnival of the sort that once crisscrossed the dusty back roads of the nation, bringing a touch of the outré and outrageous to the prim backwaters of rural America. Sociologically, one could argue that such carnivals provided a release for people shoe-horned into overly restrictive modes of conduct; booze flowed and petticoats were glimpsed, and a primal lusts of the townsfolk -- lurking at the center of the human psyche like the Minotaur in his labyrinth -- were slaked for a time.

Dramatically, this myth-mashing production translates the timeless resonance of ancient stories into a not-quite-contemporary setting, a setting both temporal and psychological that's gained a tinge of sepia and taken on the thinnest varnish of high legend. The dust bowl and the Depression are two communal experiences that have slipped to the very edge of living memory, and taken on a fresh glow of myth in their own right; to put Daedalus and Icarus (among other figures from classical mythology) into this setting creates a thrilling synergy.

The carnival's most elaborate attraction is a gravity-defying flight machine that somehow gains its motive power from the passions of its audience. Penny (Corianna Moffatt) plies the levitating machine, draped in diaphanous wrappings like a hovering goddess. Her mother, Minnie (Aimee Rose Ranger), the proprietrix of the traveling show, warns Daedalus about the machine's recent lack of levitation: It had better not fail, because any harm to Penny will mean grief for Daedalus and his little boy, too.

But Icarus (Austin Auh) is far more dangerous to Minnie's desire to keep Penny close and never let her venture off on her own. Icarus is smitten with Penny; he sends butterflies her way (too many, at one point), and though his job is to accompany her flights on guitar, the songs he longs to perform at her feet are far more romantically inclined. He's the Orpheus to her Eurydice.

As young men are wont to do, Icarus itches to get out into the world and see what's out there. He doesn't want to go alone; he promises Penny all sorts of things (a house in the woods, a farm) that he can't possibly guarantee. But the very uncertainty of life elsewhere is part of the attraction, and Penny, at first resistant to the idea of leaving the carnival, soon comes to see things his way.

The problem lies with their parents, each of whom wants only to protect his or her offspring. "I built all this for you," Daedalus and Minnie sing simultaneously, on opposite ends of the stage, the mechanic addressing his son and the proprietrix her daughter.

Stories of youth seeking its own path and being thwarted by family elders have a way of veering into tragedy; think "Romeo and Juliet," or any riff on the idea of futilely forbidden love. There's a flight here, and a fall, but this fresh spin on ancient myth doesn't go where you might expect it will.

The show also contains marvels in the form of puppets, many of them wrangled by puppeteer Faye Dupras. Howling male attendees of the carnival's sideshows are depicted as wolves; Daedalus' machines come to life in the hands of the cast. If myth needs anything, it's magic and mystery, and Dupras and the rest of the cast conjure these things up with jury-rigged gizmos that look like they just lurches out of a junkyard, possessed of some unfathomable force of life.

Tonight, Saturday, May 18, is Boston's last chance to catch this show. Like any carnival, "Daedalus" exerts a slightly illicit magnetism; the costuming, lighting, props, and performances work together to generate a truly immersive experience, and the music (though not well served by the acoustics of the space) is a huge highlight. Slavick and his company have stuffed lightning into a bottle, but like Icarus it's bound to bust out -- so catch it while you can.

Liars and Believers present the world premier of "Icarus" -- Saturday, May 18 @ 7:30 p.m. at the Cambridge YMCA in Central Square, 820 Mass Ave., Cambridge, MA. 02139.

Tickets cost $17/$20/$30. For tickets and more information, visit www.liarsandbelievers.com/icarus

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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