Chicago Theatre Review
The Stars Align and Shine for Goodman’s “Iceman”
By Lazlo Collins
So where does one begin when talking about “The Iceman Cometh”?
Do you start with author Eugene O’Neill’s career of dramatic Pulitzer prized classics? Do you talk about the Goodman’s long standing relationship with O’Neill’s plays? Or perhaps you mention the relevance of O’Neill’s work even today?
What most people talk about when you mention “The Iceman Cometh” is its length. At a running time of four hours and forty-five minutes, it comes in as one of the longest plays on record. A question I got asked a lot was, “Will you stay for the whole play?”
And the answer was “Yes”!
The Goodman’s Theatre’s production of “The Iceman Cometh” was compelling, brilliantly cast, and kept me enthralled to the end.
The 18 member cast was a powerhouse of dramatic chops. Even before the curtain rose, you knew that this “Iceman” would be one to remember.
The story of these men and woman assembled together at the last stop on their lives. From here they will go nowhere; no ambition to change; only pipe dreams sustain them. When we first see the characters appear through the dim morning light, you can almost smell the stale booze and cigarettes left over from all their dreams deferred. I snake pit of broken camaraderie to pacify everyone’s ego; with just enough empathy to stay inert.
This is “Harry Hope’s” (Stephen Quimette) flop house for all. Mr. Guimette was outstanding as the saloon owner. The caliber of his work, although expected at this level, was magnificent. His rage against the loss of his wife, and the contempt for himself as well as his companions could not have been better. Mr. Quimette’s performance was so memorable.
Brian Dennehy, as patron” Larry Slade”, commanded his role with ease. He is no stranger to the stage; portraying the down and out man of the hour. His stage credits are illustrious in this dramatic genre. With a Tony Award to his credit, and strong background in O’Neill experience; he hits the mark again with his strong and subtle cadence as the skeptic and ultimately the clearest of the group.
If there were a pinnacle of acting treasures, then Nathan Lane’s portrayal of “Theodore Hickman” is one of those that should not be missed. Lane’s “Hickey”, after much anticipation from the ensemble, comes on to the scene with all guns armed and loaded. His favorite among his rock bottom peers, but this time it is different. His work of self-discovery has passed, and his recruitment of all pipe-dreams dashed has begun. Mr. Lane is so good. His good natured camaraderie is genuine; while he insults and cajoles without flinching. His forced exploration into his revelations by his crowd is tense, but his final descent into his own revelations in the fourth act was heartbreakingly well done. Primarily known for his comedic work and funny guy shtick, Mr. Lane digs deep, and leaves the audience breathless in his portrayal of a self-delusional friend with the kind face you thought you knew well.
As “Hickey” slowly changes and challenges the flop house residents, each of the actors comes face to face with their own reality. And each of the actors comes to table with their best acting chops. Not a weak actor in sight among the cast of “Iceman Cometh”. The players moves along as one ship, making stops to allow the characters to time to explain themselves to the audience, and to try to make sense of the journey they are on. The strength of this “Iceman” cast was brilliant. I enjoyed everyone.
Salvatore Inzerillo was simply on the mark, with his portrayal of bartender “Rocky Pioggi”. Mr. Inzerillo’s sharp portrayal of a man who seemed to keep his patrons well placed in reality was superb, despite his friend “Hickey’s” pressure.
Other acting standouts include Patrick Andrews as the intense” Don Parritt”, John Hodgenakker as the heartbreaking “Willie Oban”, John Reeger as the cautious “Ceil Lewis”, John Douglas Thompson as the proud “Joe Mot”t, and James Harms as the sad “Jimmy Tomorrow”. Lee Wilkof as “Hugo Kalamar” was also picture perfect as the more tension breaking role.
With Nathan Lane, Brian Denehy, and Stephen Quimette clearly at the helm, the other actors were of no less important, and move to hold their own throughout the show. The strong leads and ensemble of actors is what makes the version of the “The Iceman Cometh” such a strong submission in its history of production.
The direction by Robert Falls, shows that this was not his first trip to the saloon. He deftly moves his characters through the passes without dragging things out, or intentionally teaching the audience a lesson. He lets the actors bring us into the story and let the audience experience their suffering. His experience with actors and source material shows in this production.
I appreciated the set design, especially for a long show such as this one. Masterfully created by Kevin Depinet, the first act has an almost claustrophobic setting; moving through the acts, to a more open air treatment. Then the final act is dark and tomblike to match the depths of the characters and their obvious choices.
“The Iceman Cometh” is a theatrical endeavor that few try. The Goodman has triumphed over such a difficult and consuming project. With this extraordinary cast in place, the stars have thus aligned again for Eugene O’Neill’s most personal play. He would have been honored by such a production. It was a chance of a lifetime to see this play that makes all of us explore our dreams deferred.
“The Iceman Cometh” runs at the Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn through 17 June 2012. 312-443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org