If you’re going to attend a 4-plus hour stage performance of Eugene O’Neill’s dark and timeless classic, The Iceman Cometh, you’d better hope you’ll be seeing the finest actors to attempt the roles. Luckily, that’s exactly what you get in this current revival, which stars the always-powerful Brian Dennehy as Larry and the simply incredible Nathan Lane as Hickey, set in a decrepit saloon/flophouse in Greenwich Village, around 1912. I don’t think it’s necessary to have to give a synopsis of the story, as it’s been part of theatre curriculum and essential reading/performance – it’s one of those plays that everyone knows the background of. I will simply stick to the evening and what I witnessed.
A story mired in gloom, depression, raging alcoholism, self-loathing and desperation, it takes some kind of mettle to bring these characters to life and make them convincing. The entire cast did just that. Spread out over four acts (and three intermissions), you’re left breathless by how intense these tragic figures are, mired in their own shortcomings – or living with their constant “pipe dreams”, which is the recurring mantra – and how drawn you are into their individual stories.
Aside from the expected but no less riveting performances from Dennehy and Lane, Stephen Ouimette as Harry Hope, the proprietor of the hell dive where the story takes place, is the standout – tragic, pitiable and still manages to be the one true foil to Lane’s blustery and pernicious Hickey. As the character is being systematically dismantled, he manages to find the ability to roar back to being confrontational – the on-stage dynamics are gripping. John Hoogenakker as Willie Oban is another “star”; his lawyer-turned-DT’s riddled alcoholic is painful to watch and at the same time, his physical presence is a wonder, having the necessary tics and movements as a drunk in need of another whiskey. John Douglas Thompson plays Joe Mott, the lone African-American character whose “speech” towards the end seems to catapult the message from 1946 (when first published) to the here and now and is also one of the performers to watch. With an ensemble cast of so many, it’s hard to single every one actor out because they were all so integral to one another and the story – it was a group that made the work flow harmoniously in a story of emotional discord.
This, for all intents and purposes, is great theatre. If you’re in the New York area, this is not to be missed. It’s a limited engagement; make effort. The four-plus hours and money spent will be well worth it.
The Iceman Cometh is in limited run, until March 15th, 2015