New York is the best place in the world to see theater in the English speaking world. You’d have to go to London to come close to what New York has to offer in terms of plays being produced. Chicago has a thriving theater scene, but it still doesn’t compare to New York’s.
The one problem with New York’s theatrical offerings is that there is so much good stuff to see that it’s impossible to see even a fraction of the worthwhile productions, and inevitably stuff gets lost in the shuffle.
I had no idea that a well-renowned production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh was coming to New York until I read a review of it in The New York Times. The production was brought over from Chicago and stars Nathan Lane in the lead role of Hickey and Brian Dennehy as Larry. The play was scheduled for a very limited run, from Feb. 5 to March 15 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
I scrambled to get tickets online and managed to get a couple for last Thursday night.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is located in downtown Brooklyn, an area that straddles the line between old-school ghetto and clueless gentrification. There are check cashing storefronts and other run-down areas not far from these stages. And BAM is not one theater but several and it’s easy to go to the wrong place (or in my case two wrong places) if you haven’t been there before.
But once I found the theater everything went smoothly. The BAM Harvey Theater lacks the upscale decorative charm of many of the Broadway theaters but it is otherwise audience friendly. Unlike your average Broadway show, the BAM audience is mostly New York City residents who know basic theater etiquette (I counted only one cell phone going off during the production).
And this production of The Iceman Cometh lives up to the hype. Nathan Lane, who is more of a well-known comic actor, makes a great Hickey. Because the characters he often plays on TV and in movies are so jovial, it puts an added barb to the soul-crushing dialogue and dark personality of his character.
Brian Dennehy’s Larry Slade broods over each act perfectly as well. And the rest of the cast, especially Stephen Ouimette as Harry Hope and James Harms as Jimmy Tomorrow, bring O’Neill’s words to life with gut-wrenching performances.
The play is about five hours long and has three intermissions, but the time passed by easily. When you’re watching a play done that well, you can lose yourself and don’t mind.
The Iceman Cometh resonates very well with audiences because everyone has some part of themselves that’s doubtful, unfulfilled and wanting. No one escapes self-doubt and no one has avoided procrastination and self-pity, though we’d like to think we do. Everyone has a problem facing harsh truths about their own lives, no matter how good your life may be.
Iceman works so well because just about every one of us has been that drunk at the bar, high on liquid courage and doubtless in dreams that we would never see through. Everyone has engaged in self-delusion at some point in their lives, everyone has something in their past that they’re ashamed of. O’Neill’s Hickey knocks the wind out of our sails with his quest to bring us peace by giving up our pipe dreams.
Art this good is always worth the investment of time. If you have a chance to see The Iceman Cometh, go see it.