The Iceman Cometh Review - Takes its Time Getting There but Ultimately Delivers


Brian Dennehy (Larry Slade) and Nathan Lane (Hickey)


The Iceman Cometh to the Goodman Theatre with all the expectations one would expect from an endeavor staring Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy.  Adding to this hype is director Robert Falls who has directed six other Eugene O’Neill plays all of which starred Mr. Dennehy.  His 2006 production of a Long Day’s Journey into Night (which premiered at the Goodman Theatre before moving to Broadway) resulted in Dennehy earning his second Tony Award for best actor.  Nathan Lane, of course, is no stranger to the stage and has two Tony Awards of his own.  Even with this much talent, however, The Iceman Cometh is no sure bet  given the amount of despair within as well as the sheer length of the play (this current production includes three intermissions and comes in at just a little under five hours).  Eugene O’Neill himself was uncertain of how audiences would receive this play and waited almost ten years before seeing it performed on stage in 1947.  While it received mixed reviews at the time, it was also a commercial success despite being a contrast to that optimistic, post war time.  The question then is whether today’s audience is ready to commit to such an effort?  After seeing the play I think they will.

The gang at Harry Hope's saloon

The Iceman Cometh centers on a sad lot of characters who drink their days away at a downtrodden saloon and flophouse in Greenwich Village owned by Harry Hope (who is as much an inmate as everyone else there).  While nursing old wounds the characters seem to get as much sustenance from their broken down dreams as from the rot gut they swill.   The play begins with them anticipating the arrival of their old friend Theodore Hickman or, as he is known by them, Hickey (Nathan Lane).  Hickey arrives but twice a year to buy drinks and tell wild stories.  This time, however, he has come with a newfound sobriety and a mission to have everyone take a good reckoning of their lives.  This effort results in a serious unbalance to Harry's Hope saloon as the characters are all pushed out of the bar and into the light.  All the while Hickey knows they are doomed to return.

Willie Oban as John Hoogenakker

There are no shortcuts or easy outs in this adaptation.  Instead of being given key moments that define the characters, they are instead given sufficient space to develop.  Brian Dennehy (as the former socialist warrior Larry Slade) is the perfect foil to Nathan Lane’s confident Hickey.  Whereas Hickey takes every opportunity to loudly celebrate his newfound peace and harmony with the universe, Larry is steadfast in his refusal to rejoin life.  Dennehy’s stage presence and carefully calculated rage commands the audience’s attention throughout the play.  Lane, in contrast, slowly transforms his character from an evangelical salesman into something far darker.  By the end of the night he is revealed as being the worst type of thief.  The ensemble also puts in strong performances with Salvatore Inzerillo (the tough guy pimp/ bartender Rocky) and Stephen Ouimette (Harry Hope) standing out.  Lee Wilkof also injects a necessary amount of humor into the play with his depiction of Hugo Kalmar (who I would describe as a drunken hybrid of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud).  And John Douglas Thompson excels as the broken down African American Joe Mott who, even in this collection of misfits and louts, is repeatedly put down for his race.  Joe Mott’s emotional reaction to this hate is a true highlight of the play. 

Patrick Anderws (Don Parritt) looks on while Brian Dennehy (Larry Slade) reluctantly makes a point

The one possible miscast in the production was Patrick Andrews (Don Parritt) who plays a guilt ridden  young man seeking absolution.  Perhaps it was the tremendous talent surrounding him, but Andrews appeared very one dimensional and capable of only expressing anger.  This role desperately needed a more nuanced approach in order to better bring to light Eugene O’Neill criticisms of a capitalistic society.   The “Movement” here is broken down but not out.  Given the current political and economic discussion of the “99%” and Occupy protests, Eugene O'Neills disgust with unchecked capitalish feels  feels very relevant to today. 

Nathan Lane (Hickey)

This was by far the densest and most lengthy play I have ever reviewed.  It was mostly thoughtful and entertaining.  At times, however, it seemed to never want to end and I valued dearly each of the needed intermissions.  Me also thinks that Hickey's extended monologue near the end of the play could have used some trimming.  But I felt a bonding and kinship with the characters that would have been less likely in a shorter production.  In the end, after the final bow, I felt not unlike Harry; in need of a walk around the neighborhood but more than a little hesitant to do so.

The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre

Bottom Line:  The Iceman Cometh  is a superb production and is highly recommended for seasoned theatre goers and persons looking to expand their cultural experiences.  If you come expecting The Producers, however, you will leave disappointed.  For more information on this and other shows, visit Theatre In Chicago

All photos provided by The Goodman Theatre



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