Like Michael Almereyda’s film version of Hamlet, Kirk Wood Bromley‘s Icarus and Aria, running at the Sacred Fools Theater, begins with the big bang of a press conference, this one an organized explosion of money and testosterone during which the owner of a fictional pro-football team named the Aztecs shows off his newest purchase: young prize back Icarus Alzaro (Matthew Troyer). It soon develops that owner Jimmy Jones (Edward Symington) has bought more than he bargained for, as Icarus’ swaggering gang leader of a brother, Primalo (John Rosenfeld), and his vatos are about to make trouble -- and Jimmy‘s own daughter, Aria (Kim Jackson), is one party away from falling in love with Icarus.
Icarus and Aria is a Southwestern shaking out of Romeo and Juliet, via West Side Story. But more than merely substituting contemporary characters for the Montagues and Capulets, Bromley has crafted a new dialogue written in verse, a gambit for which he caused a favorable stir last year in Want’s Unwished Work or, A Birthday Play. And like Lynn Manning, he has touched upon the thorny subject of American race relations.
His thematic ambition is matched by the show‘s design elements, particularly Burris Jackes’ lighting and spare but serviceable urban-desert set, and M.E. Dunn‘s costumes. It also benefits from some powerhouse performers, notably Symington’s Big Daddy and his money-hipster wife, Cindy (Amy Bryson), along with Rosenfeld‘s larger-than-life gangster, who, before you can say “El Pachuco,” runs off with our attention every time he appears.
Icarus and Aria is at its weakest when the lights go down on the ensemble scenes and Bromley focuses on the one-on-ones, especially in the idylls of the eponymous lovers. (Like Sie and Forman, the romantic leads here generate no wattage at all.) Perhaps worse, the themes so promisingly thrown up in the beginning (race, the greed of pro sports) get set aside and forgotten somewhere before intermission, to be replaced by a lot of cheap gags about shallow TV newscasters and skanky chicks. Not helping matters is the kind of reverse nontraditional casting that deprives the ensemble of a more Latino look in the moments when such a look is needed. In the end, it’s as though Bromley, like many of us, raises the issues of race, class and immigration in the conversation of his play, only to nervously laugh them away.