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Swimming for the Sun

[whitespace] Icarus Rise and Swim: Altagracia (Denise Casano) and Primitivo (Sean San José) prepare for their oceanic quest in San Jose Rep's production of 'Icarus.'

SJ Rep's 'Icarus' flies in the face of the beauty myth

By Anne Gelhaus

SAN JOSÉ Repertory Theatre's production of Icarus has very little to do with Greek mythology and a lot more to do with the beauty myth and how it defines our culture. Edwin Sanchez's script uses the idea of touching the sun as a metaphor for attaining an impossible dream.

Paraplegic Primitivo (Sean San José) and his sister, the facially scarred Altagracia (Denise Casano), seek to gain entrance into the world of the beautiful people through Primitivo's swimming skills. Each day, Primitivo goes further out in the ocean in hopes of reaching the sun, a feat he figures will make him an instant celebrity.

Altagracia acts as her brother's manager and coach, and the play elegantly raises the possibility that her devotion to Primitivo and his dream ultimately make her beautiful. It does make her attractive to Beau (Daniel Travis), an invited guest at the beach house where the siblings are squatting.

Physically, Beau is one of the beautiful people, but his self-hatred makes him feel unworthy of the attention his looks bring him. He's drawn to Altagracia's inner beauty, something she takes for granted in her constant battle to overcome her outward appearance.

These intertwining relationships are all handled delicately, despite the play's surreal settings and characters. Sanchez maintains an artful balance between Hollywood clichés and moments of genuine pathos, and the Rep's cast subtly addresses the myriad issues he raises, making his points without bludgeoning the audience with rhetoric.

Although the characters in Icarus are fleshed out well, there is enough about them left to the imagination to make them truly interesting. The Gloria (Lorri Holt)--or "little 'the' Gloria," as she refers to herself--is a blonde bombshell past her prime who seems to be not merely fading but disappearing altogether as she ages. Holt manages to render this self-absorbed woman as sympathetic, although not beyond reproach; she obviously listened too hard to everyone who told her that her face was her fortune.

Mr. Ellis (Douglas Markkanen), the homeless man who helps with Primitivo's regimen, is also surprisingly sympathetic, considering his penchant for tempting the downtrodden siblings with his "suitcase full of dreams" and then slamming it shut before they have the chance to grab anything from it. He offers telling glimpses of the events that shaped him, but again, the audience never gets too much information about him.

Without making any substantive judgments, Icarus provides a compelling overview of how the way we look--as well as the way others see us--affects our self-perception. The play has a lot to say about how society sees attractive people as more deserving of attaining their dreams, just by virtue of the fact that they look better pursuing them.

Icarus plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4:30 and 8:30pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm and Wednesday (May 13) at noon through May 17 at the San José Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $16-$32. (408/291-2255)

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From the May 7-13, 1998 issue of Metro.

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