So when you’re having a long, tiring week, what’s the best way to relax? A five hour Euguene O’Neill play? Yeah. I really wasn’t in the best emotional space to be attending last night’s performance of The Iceman Cometh, but my friend somehow managed to get 3 tickets to a show I thought was sold out, and I can’t turn down a chance to see Brian Dennehy in person. So five hours fo Eugene O’Neill it was.
I had never seen Iceman on stage, it’s not often produced, because you really need a pairing as talented as Dennehy and Nathan Lane to keep an audience engaged, even with three intermissions. And while I’ll admit to drifting a little during act 2 (the lead up to the birthday party), I was totally riveted to the heartbreaking last scene, where Lane’s Hicky reveals where all of his “peace” really came from. And by rivted I mean crying and sharing tissues with the stranger sitting next to me.
O’Neill does not do light, and this play is the epitome of his work: long, dense, and heartbreaking from start to finish, but also perfectly crafted for the stage. During the third intermission I started to compose this entry in my head. I had a lot of things I was going to say about unnecessary bleakness, and O’Neill’s torturing the audience like Hicky tortues the poor alcoholics onstage, but then the last act came and I realized I had kind of been missing the point. The moral in the end isn’t really about the advisability of “pipe dreams,” at least not to me – I don’t think he comes down clear on either side. And that’s the point. Larry (Dennehy) says his curse in life is that he’ll always be able to see both sides of an argument, and I think that was O’Neill’s curse too. (Maybe that’s why he doesn’t truly hate his mother at the end of Long Day’s Journey Into Night – he can see the pain she was in.)
I could go on and on, because this is a production I will be thinking about for a very long time. And not just because the text is so rich, the actor’s were extraordinary. Dennehy and Lane as expected, but also Lee Wilkoff (who I love a singer) was amazing at the aging anarchist Hugo, and Patrick Andrews really held his own as the angsty young Parrit. My absolute favorite performance though was by Stephen Ouimette as the poor, deluded Harry Hope. He conveyed the blind optimism and tragic dissapointment of his character so well that I literally ached for him.
If you can score a ticket, go.
The show runs through June 17th at the Goodman Theater, 170 N. Dearborn