I purchased tickets months ago for the Nathan Lane version of The Iceman Cometh at BAM.
I have to admit I was wary. Lane is a very affable, sweet natured actor with a bit of snark. I couldn't see him as Hickey. The role, for whatever reason, has become the province of uncommonly handsome actors even if that was not the type that O'Neill was thinking about when he wrote the play. Lane was among big men, from the sleazy Robards, Marlboro Man Marvin, the silky voiced James Earl Jones, strapping Dennehy and the shark-like Spacey (who I saw almost 20 years ago in the role on Broadway). However my fears were laid to rest because Lane showed new sides to the role that were hidden by the other actors. Lane's Hickey was an everyman, a non-intimidating guy you would let charm you into a sales pitch. And his usual sweet nature took on more menacing element, it turned into a facade. Because underneath you could feel the strain to keep up the smiles and the charm, you could feel the hate brewing underneath. He had the audience mesmerized from his first appearance to his frighteningly unhinged mad scene. I never thought his gentle laughter could be so unnerving but it was.
Lane was ably backed up by a powerful Brian Dennehy, this time aged into the role of Larry Slade. Dennehy was always a powerful actor, so much so he sucks up the energy around him like the great attractor. Its hard not to take your eyes off him. And this was still the case in this production. He managed to steal many scenes just sitting in a chair, quiet within himself. I could believe him as a man who was disappointed in love, so much so that he decided to leave the world behind him but not too far in case his torch should call for him.
The rest of the actors did good jobs. The only caveat I had was the forced New York accents some of the actors used. The actor who played bar keep Rocky especially struggled with the accent. I grew up with the remnants of that speech and that wasn't what I was hearing on stage. What I heard was this operatic, scale sliding warble when in reality that accent is quick, to the point and very low key. I had a feeling that the actors were copying an already bastardized, over the top interpretation of the accent from 1930 gangster films. The only one who was more comfortable and close to it was the other actor who played bar keep Chuck. And that was because he chose to ignore the accent most times. I was quite impressed by the actress, Kate Arrington, who played Cora. She did very well during Lane's mad scene as she quite clearly identified with Hickey's ill fated wife Evelyn.
The other quibble I had is more about O'Neill's writing than it was about a particular actor. Patrick Andrews did his best with Don Parritt, but lets face facts, the role is thankless and badly written. I have yet to see ANY actor make anything of it or turn it into a believable person. The character has odd speeches with odd wording, and was so obviously a symbolic shadow-Hickey that I don't understand why O'Neill couldn't see that he was writing dead space into his play. And that is exactly what Parritt is, dead space. I could feel my eyes rolling at each cheesy sentence he uttered. I felt a vindictive relief when he finally ended it all, and I don't think that was what O'Neill intended.
The production values were great. Goodman Company did a lot with what money they had for the production. The sets weren't as beautiful as the big Spacey Broadway production years back but they were still attractive. I do think they changed sets once too often, which led to some disorientation in regards to a sense of place but not so much it took me out of the play. The lighting for this production was just breathtaking.
I highly recommend this production, and if you can get tickets...SEE IT! Another piece of good news is that the production may get backing to move to Broadway. It would be fantastic to see Lane fill up a huge Broadway stage with his very memorable Hickey.
Labels: art, culture, plays, reviews