City Cabaret
Twitter Icon Facebook Icon

The Iceman Cometh

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors


The Iceman Cometh
David Morse, Denzel Washington, Colm Meaney in The Iceman Cometh.  Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

It is 1912 on the seedy West Side of Manhattan where director George C. Wolfe's artistic staging presents the regulars at Harry Hope's saloon frozen in drunken stupors.  They had been waiting for hours for Hickey to arrive and liven things up.  Surely when Theodore Hickman (Hickey), a traveling salesman arrives, it will be as usual, drinks all around and lively stories from the road.  But tonight Hickey is late and everyone is tired of waiting.

The Iceman Cometh is a long-winded, repetitive but captivating play by one of America's finest playwrights and despite the theme of hopelessness and a cast of worn-out characters living on pipe dreams, Hickey's arrival is worth the wait.  

Only one reason is Denzel Washington, an audience draw for good reason, yet here, the entire ensemble is exceptional, each a persuasive personality sluggishly coming alive and defining himself with hopeless fantasy.  For the boozy gang, time passes by drinking and relishing in pipe dreams.  Only Larry (David Morse), a despondent ex-anarchist standing to one side, has given up on illusions but sardonically watches as the others reminisce about the good old days that never really existed although their lives are driven by pipe dreams.  As Larry describes them to a newcomer, Paritt (Austin Butler), "No one here has to worry about where they're going next, because there is no farther they can go." 

Through the four-hour production (cut an hour from the original), we watch the girls (Tammy Blanchard as Cora, Carolyn Braver as Pearl and Nina Grollman playing Margie), hookers prefering to call themselves "tarts."  An odd couple,  as The Captain (Frank Wood) and Piet Wetjoen is The General, relive the war and ex-Boer War correspondent, Jimmy Tomorrow (Reg Rogers), longs for another war.  There is a flimflam ex-circus performer (Bill Irwin), Joe Mott (Michael Potts) an African-American woebegone gambler and Harry Hope (an ironic name), the saloon/flophouse owner.  Harry, played with a mix of gregarious nastiness by Colm Meaney, has not left the bar since his wife died 20 years ago and tomorrow is his birthday and he is waiting for Hickey to get his party starting.

It is at least an hour into the show before Hickey finally bounds in with his charismatic life-of-the-party grin, arms wide, ready for a good time.  Except the good time moments are few.  For one thing, despite Hickey's occasional outbreaks of cheer, he is strangely sober. He is now more interested in smashing illusions and dispensing his bleak philosophy, like an iceman delivering news that life's only harsh truth is the inevitability of death. 

In general, Washington's Hickey is as depressing as is his foil, Morse' Larry, who has his hands full with Paritt's guilt about turning in his anarchist mother.  Washington inundates Hickey with self-hatred lifted by occasional bursts of conviviality, offers of salvation and only later fully revealed in a lengthy confessional monologue delivered sitting on a chair at the edge of the stage. 

The lugubrious gin-mill shifts of settings by Santo Loquasto's are made even gloomier with lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer and sound effects by Dan Moses Schreier.  Ann Roth designed perfect shabby costumes for most of the down-and-outers, and a snappy suit for Hickey.

With all the pieces in place, Denzel Washington and the superb cast of meticulously defined characters, George C. Wolfe steers this shattering production of O'Neill's American classic once more to Broadway.


The Iceman Cometh

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 - West 45 St, New York, NY
Previews: Mar. 23, 2018. Opening: Apr. 26, 2018. Closing: July 1, 2018
https://www. Running time: 3 hours. 50 minutes. Two intermissions. One brief pause.
Cast: Tammy Blanchard (Cora), Carolyn Braver (Pearl), Austin Butler (Don Parritt), Joe Forbrich (Lieb), Nina Grollman (Margie), Thomas Michael Hammond (Moran), Neal Huff (Willie Oban), Bill Irwin (Ed Mosher), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Chuck Morello), Dakin Matthews (Gen. Piet Wetjoen), Danny McCarthy (Rocky Pioggi), Jack McGee (Pat McGloin), Colm Meaney (Harry Hope), Clark Middleton (Hugo Kalmar), David Morse (Larry Slade), Michael Potts (Joe Mott), Reg Rogers (Jimmy Tomorrow), Denzel Washington (Theodore Hickman), Frank Wood (Capt. Cecil Lewis)
Playwright: Eugene O'Neill
Director: George C.Wolfe


Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

April 2017

Also can be read on