Left to right, Jeanine Bartel, Dennis Dannel, Jr., and Jonathan Butler in Icarus & Aria.
This story has so many handles. Let us pick one. Well, two. Kirk Wood Bromley, playwright, actor and poet, the Downtown Shakespeare, grew up in Arizona. Aaron Beall, actor, director, playwright, producer, was obsessed by football as a kid. Still is.
Put all that together and you get Icarus & Aria, a neo-Elizabethan Romeo and Juliet for the 2000s in which Icarus Alzaro, a $250-million hotshot Latino quarterback for the Arizona Aztechs (and brother of a Mafioso named Primalo Alzaro), falls fatally in love with Aria Jones, she who doth teach the lanterns to burn bright, daughter of bulldozing Arizona Aztech owner Jimmy Jones.
The three-hour, 45-character high tragedy, which first burst into life at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe during the 1997, or first annual, FringeNYC Festival, has come back for an unlimited run on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at Club Cheetah, 12 W. 21st St., in the Flatiron District.
Cheetah used to be the most notorious hip-hop club in New York, says Fringe co-progenitor Aaron Bell, proudly. I always like edgy environments. Indeed, his Todo Con Nada (Everything With Nothing) theatrical company has for some time now been in exile, all over town. One of Bealls venues a couple of years ago where he directed and acted in a good quirky production of Chekhovs The Seagull, among other adventures was the porno-tinged Show World, at Eighth Ave. and 42nd St.
Now he has, or will soon open, a new theater, Todo 45, at 445 W. 45th St. where, in 1996, in the small office that had once housed the Joseph Papp archives, we started working on the Fringe Festival, [actor/directors] John Clancy, Jonathan Harris and I . . . nine months for conception, nine months for delivery.
Meanwhile theres Club Cheetah and Icarus & Aria.
Aaron Beall had known little or nothing about Kirk Wood Bromley, the prolific, immensely talented magician of old language and old idea fresh-minted to new in astonishing works like The American Revolution, back when he, Beall, was looking for someone to create a shadow text of Loves Labours Won, the sequel that Shakespeare may or may not have written to Loves Labours Lost.
This, all because Beall had in the summer of 1995 decided to produce and direct the complete works of William Shakespeare, including the above famous lost sequel that may never have existed but which scholars had been talking about for years.
I had this big pile of 99 or more scripts propped up on my desk, says Beall, and then I remembered that one of them had been in verse. It was at the very bottom of the pile. I pulled it out, and the entire pile fell over.
The play was called Wants Unwashed Work, it was by Kirk Wood Bromley, and it was about four women who were retreating from the world to study womens-studies issues in Athens, Georgia and the four guys who came to woo them.
So Beall called Bromley up.
At that moment I was playing Lysander in Midsummer Nights Dream in the parking lot at Ludlow and Broome Streets in the middle of a heat wave, Beall says. Kirk and I met after the performance, and were drinking margaritas at The Hat, at Ludlow and Stanton, when I told him I was going to produce the complete works of Shakespeare and needed a poet to write that one lost play.
And Kirk uttered the immortal words: Ive already begun it.
In that same meeting, there in The Hat, Beall and Bromley decided to do a big book of [new] plays for Americans just as Shakespeare had done for England. We felt a poet could encode a culture for future centuries. We really wanted to create something that would be read 400 years from now so people reading it then could have some idea of the culture from which they came.
Kirk and I sort of opened the Shakespearean box, Beall says with a pokerfaced smile. Kirk had the instinct that the Fringe would be a big success, and he wanted to be there. Id done a Shakepeare Festival and a 43 Fausts Festival and three Richard Foreman Festivals and two Chekhov Festivals, one of them the 33 Swoons Chekhov Festival in honor of Meyerhold, the original Treplev of The Seagull Meyerhold, whod personally counted Chehovs 33 vaudeville swoons and Stanislavsky, the original Trigorin. At that point, Downtown went festival crazy.
O.K., Aaron. Back to Icarus & Aria. Whered that come from?
All we knew when we walked into the first rehearsal there were no words yet written all we knew was that there was to be a wedding, that the play would be a tragedy, and that everybody would die at the end. We wanted to see if the Elizabethan form would have power and resonance for late-20th-century American ears.
Aaron Bealls father is 1960s Greenwich Village poet and present much-in-demand kitchen designer DeWitt Talmadge Beall; his mother is Suzanne Yenne, a gardener who plays music. Their hippie child, conceived in Paris, born May 20, 1964, in Mount Sinai Hospital in this city, had an erratic education mostly through library cards all across the United States and Mexico, including four years in a beatnik colony south of the border.
From which comes my fascination with border politics, as well as what was going on in Juarez, where the bodies of prostitute victims of a serial killer, or killers, keep turning up even to this day.
Icarus & Aria reflects those fascinations and Kirk added a great layer, the Apache layer, so that the play is actually a collision of three great nations: the Apache nation, the Mexican nation and the U.S. nation. Its also a contest between legitimate culture and illegitimate culture.
Football, Aaron, football.
The reason Im an actor, says the 39-year-old current Brooklynite who has played Trigorin in his own staging of The Seagull Trigorin the compulsive writer who plucks up a young woman and then throws her away just to pass the time, so to speak the reason Im an actor is because of football.
As a kid I was totally obsessed by football. The costumes. The crowds. The various positions. I would spend hours playing football with myself. Hiking myself. Tackling myself. Passing to myself.
Beall thinks a minute, then says: Theres also a big O.J. hangover in the text of Icarus & Aria. When Icarus returns, riding a white Bronco . . .
I remember the year the Jets won the Super Bowl . I was with my dad in Wilmette, Illinois. He was making a film, Lord Thing, about vice lords in the South Side of Chicago it won a prize as Best Documentary at Venice and I helped make it. I held the tripod. I was 5 years old.
Football? I like all the teams, all the players. I think footballs the best form of socialism ever invented. He also thinks his thoroughly integrated Icarus & Aria cast headed by Dennis Dannel, Jr., as Icarus, Jeanine Bartel (Aria), Jonathan Butler (Primalo), Kevin Mambo (Maximus), Monica Powell (Dina), Marion Cowings (Trinidad), Caraid OBrien (Arias mother) and Beall himself (Arias father) is the best in the world.
Eight months casting, five months rehearsing, says director Beall, as if he were calling signals at the line of scrimmage. Like a Shakespearian audible.