Jade Esteban Estrada's Icons is an attempt at creating a theatrical history of prominent gays and lesbians that is palatable to mainstream audiences while maintaining a decidedly queer perspective. The aesthetic result is a somewhat bizarre mix of high-school assembly and pride rally. Variously flawed, the show is nonetheless an entertaining vehicle for an admirable agenda.
Beginning with Sappho and working his way through Ellen DeGeneres, Estrada provides each character with a monolog and a song. The choices of Icons are strong, though ethnically a little homogenous, and the show does a good job at presenting a nutshell view of the history of Western gay rights.
Mounted at the Producer's Club as part of a larger tour, the production was necessarily bare-bones and portable. The accompaniment was a recording of a pianist, the lighting minimal, and the set bare save for Estrada's onstage dressing area. The minimalist quality of the staging was generally effective, and incorporated enough into Estrada's transitions to appear as intentional as it was necessary. Back-lit, with the piano vamping, Estrada changed from one costume to the next in full view of the audience, providing enough visual interest to fill the space between characters.
The music is a mixed bag, smartly enough written but sometimes compromised by the need to squeeze a lot of information into a meter or cadence. The choreography, designed to help keep the characters distinct, sometimes backfired as some of Estrada's apparently favorite gestures remained throughout. A twirl signifying the passage of time showed up in Michelangelo's movement vocabulary, for example. The monologs are informative and often funny, and Estrada's enthusiasm was engaging, but it is difficult to "act" historical Cliff's Notes, which is the hurdle Estrada has set up for himself. Explanations of history, told in the past tense, are inherently not very active.
The show was directed and designed by Aliza, whose costumes were quite effective in evoking the various periods covered by the text. Additional musical arrangements were provided by Tracy Stark.
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Copyright 2003 Frank Episale