BWW Review: THE ICEMAN COMETH, a Symphony of Sadness (and Kindness), at The Vortex
Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh--the portrayal of a dysfunctional bunch of rock-bottom alcoholic barflies and the salesman who tries to 'save' them from their futile pipe dreams--is a risky show to see on opening night at a community theater, where the dividing line between rehearsal and showtime can still be a little clumsy. If you're going to sit through a four-hour monument like this, you don't want clumsy. Happily, last Friday at the Vortex offered an uninterrupted dive into the darkest sympathies of man--with precious few flubs to distract. In fact, I can recall only one glaring rehearsal holdover: An actor still carried his script.
This actor was also the director: In the pre-show announcements, we were told the actor who'd played Larry Slade had to drop out six days before the show opened. So director James Cady had to step into all the massive monologues. "Please forgive the script he carries for insurance," the announcer requested. Forgiveness came easy; indeed, as soon as Cady began to speak I was immediately grateful he had that role. This show is an extraordinary symphony--nineteen excellent actors all piping in and out, rising and falling collective undercurrents of sickness and hope. It's only fitting that Slade, arguably O'Neill's most direct mouthpiece, is played by the conductor himself.
Slade with his pink-highlighted script (which will probably be gone by the time you're in the audience) sits mostly on the edge of the action, while the denizens of Harry's bar--'inmates,' Slade calls them--each in turn and concert portray their particular estrangements, delusions, and contentments. All actors imbue seamless repertoires of physical and vocal mannerisms to illustrate these particularities, which compel the audience to see beyond their condescending judgements and recognize these characters' fully-embodied souls. This is a tragic recognition on the case-by-case basis--but with all the actors' repertoires combined into collective symphony, the effect is a devastating reflection of ourselves.
The miracle of this production is that, even if all this excellent art seems damned to prove the damnation of audience and actors both, there is still good news--albeit of the depressive variety, characteristic to O'Neill. This gospel comes straight from the mouth of Slade/ Cady/ O'Neill: a compassionate witness, this man with his book is not separate from the misery--yet he's tuned his ear (and ours) to the kindness piping in each dream.
Image credit: Saint Goddess Photography
Top Image: Philip J. Shortell
Bottom, L to R: Scott Sharot, Alan Hudson, Neil Faulconbridge