Powerful acting lifts dark ‘Iceman’ at BAM
It may take the Iceman a long time to arrive, but in director Robert Fall’s powerful production of “The Iceman Cometh,” the waiting takes place with unforgettable company, including Nathan Lane, Brian Dennehy and John Douglas Thompson.
The entire excellent ensemble from the well-received 2012 production at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre is performing Eugene O’Neill’s dark, nearly five-hour 1939 classic through March 15, in its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).
And what a memorable tour through hell it is, a virtuoso presentation of the downfalls of self-delusion and of O’Neill’s pessimistic belief in the futility of humanity’s efforts to strive toward anything at all.
Fall’s production is visually stunning, with moments throughout that resemble macabre variations on The Last Supper. When characters aren’t speaking, many slump on tables, as if trapped in a long, shared nightmare.
In a dingy, run-down saloon in 1912 New York City, a group of dissolute, daydreaming alcoholics eagerly await the annual arrival of their traveling salesman pal, Theodore “Hickey” Hickman (Lane), to bankroll their bottomless need for booze. There’s plenty of gallows humor among the unemployed denizens, disillusioned anarchists, tarts-not-whores and disgraced ex-pat soldiers and journalists. They deride their own predicaments and those of their drinking buddies, sharing grand plans for a tomorrow that somehow never becomes today.
The delusional stories of these down-and-outers is highlighted by the pungent commentary of retired anarchist and “fool-osopher” Larry Slade, a cynic who pretends he has no more “pipe dreams.” Dennehy, who has previously collaborated with Falls in several O’Neill productions, including performing as Hickey in 1990, and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” on Broadway in 2003, magnificently embodies Slade as a world-weary, worn-out bull of a man.
When Hickey (Lane) finally arrives, he shocks the gang by urging them to kill their pipe dreams and share in the true peace he claims to have discovered. Lane’s well-known musical comedy skills (recently “It’s Only a Play”) are surprisingly in tune with Hickey’s smarmy huckster persona. Lane wears an energetic, showman-like personality as Hickey ringmasters the puncturing of all his friends’ fragile hopes of a better future. His long monologue finally exposing Hickey’s own terrible secret is affecting, if a bit stagey.
Among the strong cast, Thompson provides a distinctive portrayal of ousted gambling-house boss Joe Mott. The proprietor, kind-hearted Harry Hope, is given a blustery yet defeated air by Stephen Ouimette. Patrick Andrews is persistently annoying as desperate newcomer Don Parritt, son of an old flame of Slade’s, while Salvatore Inzerillo gives simmering menace to bartender Rocky. John Hoogenakker is painful to watch as Willy Oban, a tattered remnant of a once-privileged Harvard graduate so deep into alcoholism that he never stops shaking. Kate Arrington is especially poignant as a tart who pretends she might marry her pimp and live on a farm.
Falls and his cast give thoughtful, compassionate attention to all the nuances of the characters’ foibles and self-destructive behaviors, especially when the shaking barflies dress up and attempt to go out sober into the too-bright world to recover some long-lost dignity.
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