He’s Daedalus, Jim
Latest Blue Room offering takes wing but doesn’t fly close enough to the sun
There’s a lot to like about the latest Blue Room production, Daedalus. Written and directed by David Davalos, who came from New York to oversee the production, the play is booked as a comic fantasia, and it certainly delivers some fine comic moments. But it also has some rather extended forays into exposition about politics, diplomacy and warfare at the dawn of the Italian Renaissance that do little or nothing to advance or illuminate the action taking place on stage.
Davalos has assembled a lively cast of historical characters to explore and interweave the well-worn themes of art vs. science, treachery vs. diplomacy, love vs. lust, religion vs. pragmatism, feminine vs. masculine, etc. Quite a banquet for the feast of reason, but one in which the courses are dumped in a large pot and served helter-skelter, leaving the palate bemused at best and impatient at worst, as demonstrated by the three young ladies seated near me who began mouthing off at the characters from their seats during the last 20 or so minutes of the performance I attended.
The plot revolves around the unlikely comic trio of Leonardo da Vinci (Joe Hilsee), Niccolo Machiavelli (Paul Stout) and Cesare Borgia (Jerry Miller). Borgia, a ruthless nobleman, has hired the artist/scientist da Vinci to build some weapons of war, and da Vinci has set to with the naïveté of a child genius given permission and resources to realize his scientific fantasies. Machiavelli schemes to keep him ignorant of the dire purpose Borgia plans for his realized mechanical dreams.
As the satanic Borgia, Miller could not be more suitably cast. Corpulent, athletic and capable of intensely dynamic shifts of vocal and physical presence, the character is given life through lusty joy and frighteningly ruthless violence. As he says, “I have many virtues, but forgiveness is not one of them.”
As Borgia’s counterpoint, Hilsee’s da Vinci is a more enigmatic (and likable) blend of self-serving shrewdness, childlike enthusiasm and scientific rationalism.
Stout’s Machiavelli is the balancing point and conduit between the two leads, and he handles the role with a knowing, sympathetic smirk at the easily manipulated human foibles of lust, greed and power-seeking.
Of course, watching all these high-powered dudes strutting and declaiming in their medieval finery (beautifully costumed by Amber Miller) would get to be a bore much more quickly if there weren’t some fine damsels strewn about to liven up the action and the blood; and here, both in casting and in characterization, Davalos has done extremely well.
The romance of Leonardo with Borgia’s sister, the historically infamous Lucrezia (Hannah Knight), is finely written and beautifully played. And Michelle Smith brings a regal and intelligent Isabella d’Este—a noblewoman who loses her art-patronage of Leonardo to Cesare’s militaristic ambitions—to enticing life, as she does to the all-too-briefly glimpsed “Primavera,” a playmate of Cesare’s.
The centerpiece of the play is Leonardo’s explorations of the products of an alchemical apparatus left in his chambers by his predecessor, Caligari. And the embodiment of his exploration is the mysterious and delightful Lisabella di Tirisio (Sheri Bagley), an artist whose origins shall remained occluded, unless you see the play for yourself. Suffice to say that Bagley captures and inhabits this adventurous spirit with fine humor, and her interaction with both the Borgias is poignant and comical and weirdly romantic.
Those with a taste for the bizarre and the patience to bear with the convoluted and ragged pacing will be rewarded for sticking with this play to the end. But the pruning of a few subplots—with no disrespect to Rob Wilson, who does commendable yeoman’s service as the expendable nobleman/general Vitellozzo Vitelli and the “soon-to-be duke” Lodovico Sfora—and about a half-hour of running time would make this play a much more enjoyable evening of comic fantasia.