Minnie Minoseczeck’s Menagerie of Marvels is not part of the traditional story of Icarus, but maybe every good Greek myth needs shaking up now and then.
The Liars & Believers theater company has set its “Icarus” in Minnie’s fictional Depression-era traveling sideshow, complete with a burlesque act and the kind of raw American folk sound that turned up on Alan Lomax’s field recordings for the Library of Congress.
“The fundamental story is about the children of this economically oppressive world who are determined to escape and find something better,” says Liars & Believers artistic director Jason Slavick, who also directs the production.
“Icarus,” which will be performed Friday and Saturday at the Cambridge YMCA, started out with Slavick mulling an update of the myth. A year or so ago, with contemporary economic troubles in mind, he began kicking around ideas with composer Nathan Leigh and finally penned what he calls a short story, a handful of pages roughing out the idea of a traveling sideshow in Texas and Oklahoma, circa 1938. Last fall that text got passed around to the members of the troupe, the LAB ensemble, for weeks of brainstorming and improv. Puppeteer Faye Dupras joined the project. A script took shape, and Leigh wrote songs to be sung by the cast and performed by an onstage trio of guitar, fiddle, and accordion.
The final version finds Minnie (Aimee Rose Ranger) drawing patrons to her show with the unusual inventions of Daedalus (Steven Emanuelson). But when Daedalus’s son, Icarus (Austin Auh), and Minnie’s daughter and star performer, Penny (Corianna Moffatt), fall in love, things begin to go haywire. (There are four other roles, all played by Veronica Barron.)
On one hand, Slavick is focused on the inherent tension of the parent-child relationship. On the other, there’s a moral question.
“In a world that is suffering under economic oppression, there can be a moral code of ‘every man for himself,’ and the question is, is that true? Or is there a higher, better moral code you can live by?” Slavick says. “That’s one thing they’re trying to escape. It’s not the poverty; it’s the moral deprivation.”
Although there’s much more singing than spoken dialogue in the piece, Slavick and Leigh prefer to call “Icarus” a “song play” rather than a “musical,” a term they say brings with it baggage they don’t want to carry. Leigh’s music for the show can be termed Americana, but his goal wasn’t only stylistic.
“It was important to me that it was believable, that these characters sing how that character would sing,” Leigh says. “I find it very frustrating when you’re watching a [musical] and some character [is] sort of broken or just in a lot of inner turmoil . . . and they burst out in a song with this beautiful sound.”
Icarus and Penny do have some beautiful melodies, Leigh says, but he invokes people like Tom Waits to describe the gruff, aggressive music of Daedalus.
Each performance of “Icarus” will feature a pre-show with a band: the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library on Friday and What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? on Saturday. There will be burlesque and sideshow acts and a bit of art on display.
“In general with LAB shows, we want to create a really full night of entertainment, so you should feel sated after you’ve left a show,” Slavick says.
He plans to take “Icarus” to the New York Musical Theatre Festival in July before returning it to New England for performances in multiple locations sometime next season.
One problem. We know how the Icarus myth ends. He dons the wings of wax and feathers made by his father but flies too close to the sun. His wings melt and he falls to earth.
Slavick says that’s not necessarily a spoiler.
“This is not a retelling of the Icarus myth; it’s inspired by it,” he says. “Just because you know how the myth ends doesn’t mean you know how this ends.”
slated for Central Square
The 2013-14 lineup at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge features the first opera from one of its resident companies as well as the return of the popular “Arabian Nights” production at the holidays.
The season opens with “Absurd Person Singular” by Alan Ayckbourn, July 18-Aug. 18, produced by the Nora Theatre Company. Next up, the Nora and Underground Railway Theater offer a joint production of “The Other Place” by Sharr White, Sept. 12-Oct. 6, featuring Debra Wise, artistic director of Underground Railway. The Nora stages “Insignificance,” by Terry Johnson, Jan. 6-Feb. 9, 2014.
Underground Railway tackles the opera “Brundibar,” with music by Hans Krasa and original libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, March 6-April 6, 2014. Inside the Terezin concentration camp during World War II, children performed the opera 55 times. The version here was adapted by Tony Kushner, who also wrote the curtain raiser, “But the Giraffe!” — his imagining of how the score was smuggled into Terezin.
Underground Railway will produce Chantal Bilodeau’s “Sila,” about climate change and its effect on the Inuit, April 24-May 25, 2014, and Norman Plotkin’s “Cassandra Speaks,” a one-man show starring Tod Randolph as foreign correspondent Dorothy Thompson, May 29-June 29, 2014.
“Arabian Nights,” adapted by Dominic Cooke, a co-production of the two companies, has been a hit for the theater the last two seasons and will return Nov. 14-Dec. 29, although it is not a part of any subscription series. Subscriptions are now on sale, and single tickets to “Absurd Person Singular” go on sale June 3: 617-576-9278, ext. 210, and www.centralsquaretheater
.org. All other tickets go on sale in the fall.
Fresh Ink Theatre Company will roll out five new plays in its 2013-14 season, three in full productions at the Factory Theatre, two in staged readings this fall. The full productions are “Outlaw Jean,” by MJ Kaufman, Nov. 8-16; “Handicapping” by James McLindon, Jan. 31-Feb. 8, 2014; and “123” by Lila Rose Kaplan, April 25-May 3, 2014. Readings, not yet scheduled, are “My Grandson the Power Bottom,” by MJ Halberstadt and “CHALK” by Walt McGough.
Joel Brown can be reached at email@example.com.