“The Icarus Project” debuts at Shea Theatre

By Thomas J. Johnson

On Thursday April 28, 2010, the theatre department of Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman campus opened their final production for the spring 2011 semester, “The Icarus Project,” which will conclude its run in the Shea Theatre on May 8.

“The Icarus Project” is an original work created by Suffolk County Community College Assistant Professor of Theatre Andrew Wittkamper and College Director of Theatre, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Academic Chair of Theatre Arts Charles T. Wittreich Jr. over the course of 7 years, since the conception of the concept in 2003.

The work is a take on the classic Greek myth of the titular Icarus with influences from more modern theatrical works like Cirque de Soleil’s “Varekai,” “Avenue Q,” “The Magic Flute” and the Handspring Puppet Company’s “War Horse.” The intention was to present audiences with a fresh and unique experience, which they did.

“The Icarus Project” differs from the College’s previous productions in many regards. “The Icarus Project” is the first of the College’s productions in recent years, if ever, to be almost devoid of dialogue, and instead rely on those on stage to convey the story through their actions.  While many of the performers gave flat performances and were unable to effectively do so, Robert Doyle, the actor of the main protagonist Daedalus, gave an exemplary performance.

The other big staple of “The Icarus Project” is in its use of puppets. Puppets play numerous characters, and for the most part it works. For most of the production the titular Icarus is played by a puppet, which, while mildly effective in a story telling sense, ultimately fails to provide a good sense of immersion by having it’s two puppeteers tower a good 2 to 3 feet over it, due to the puppet’s short stature.

The larger puppets, however, are a completely different story. The design and construction of the White Bull and full-grown Minotaur are especially notable, with the latter standing at 10+ feet tall and controlled by several performers.

While the acting mostly falls short, everything else is spectacular as far as production goes. The lighting, sound and costume design are among the best the department has done in recent years. The costuming for Daedalus in particular is exquisite and shows the skill of the staff, due to his elaborate garb, one even sports electro-luminescent wiring, giving it a similar look to that of the design in the “TRON” films.

A combination of prerecorded sound effects; music and live drums set the mood nicely, especially when the live drums are used to convey a sense of panic and terror. The lighting employed is similarly effective, with a myriad of different lighting used to convey atmosphere and tone in lieu of dialogue queues.

For all of its shortcomings, “The Icarus Project” is certainly a unique experience, the likes of which haven’t been seen at the Shea Theatre in recent memory. The production certainly isn’t for everyone, as it’s more of a performance art piece, and will certainly turn some patrons off with its pretension and showiness, but if you think you may enjoy a production like this, why not give it a whirl?

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