BWW Reviews: THE ICEMAN COMETH Wrenches Bethesda Audiences From Their Pipe-Dreams
The Quotidian Theatre Company of Bethesda, MD, open their sixteenth season with a show of whisky-drenched realism in Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.
The set dressings establish the tone for this night of suppressed pain and pipe dreams: dark, marred walls and stained tables that bear the weight of a concerning amount of bottles and shot glasses. Dim lights hover overhead like lamps with bulbs about to flicker out.
The lights blink on and paint the dozen or so men into this dead-end tragedy as they sleep off their previous round of drinks. The only exceptions are Larry Slade, played by Steve Beall, and Rocky Pioggi, played by Frank Vince, as they affectionately and wryly rag on their sleeping friend and proprietor of Harry Hope's saloon, Harry Hope, played by Ted Schneider.
Schneider's depiction of the proprietor reads tragically and beautifully to the audience. While all of the men in this play suffer from overwhelming fears and self-loathing, the ache of age and hopelessness permeates from this man in particular. When he leaves the bar for the first time in twenty years since his wife died, Schneider does so by leaving the distinct impression that he does not want to leave the bar, not only because he is frightened but because he does not want his life until this point to have been a waste.
The excuses these men use to drink-cheating wife, job loss, loss of purpose-mask the real reason they all share for perpetuating their habit. They drink because that is what they truly want to do. They excuse their drinking on points that others can empathize or sympathize with not to hide their hopelessness, but to hide that what they love more than anything is being hopeless. They use their self-destructive alcoholism to hide that they are petrified of the outside world-of life-and of themselves.
Willie Oban, played by Matt Boliek portrays the best human example of this self-inflicted hopelessness. From the moment he shakily waves his hand desperately towards a bottle of whisky, to the end of the three hour play when he stands singing, drinking and laughing with the rest of the hopeless brigade, he is heart-wrenchingly tragic. Boliek makes Willie seem so unbelievably young and broken. Even when Hickey dresses him in a nice suit, he looks like an over-grown child trying to fill the shoes of a more confident man.
The other men in the play had equally if not more tragic stories to tell, although occasionally their stories were murky and confusing because it was difficult to understand everything they were saying. Whether it was because of the coming and going of accents or the sudden sparks of occasionally unnecessary screaming, it was a shame that some of the stories were unable to take the clear form that Willie and Hope's did.
The most disappointing underdevelopment was the relationship between Parritt and Larry. While both actors were equally entertaining to watch, any time they came together inspired little more than confusion. There did not seem any sort of pull between them, which would have made their interactions slightly more bearable. Someone who never experienced Iceman before would not understand why their relationship is so painful for both of them. They would not understand how, in the end, Larry really does guide Parritt towards oblivion for more reasons than just being irritated by him.
In a world that is steeped in such stark reality, the women in the play were the most dissatisfying. They played caricatures as they hurried around the play, giggling and whining in phony, high-pitched voices. Why, in a play that revels in the dark cynicism, was it necessary to make the three women in the play so completely fake? What a breath of fresh air it would be if "tarts" were played like people instead of like cartoon characters.
The play ends just as somberly as it began. However, instead of a silent world of sleep, the atmosphere seems vibrant with life-even in the face of two recent deaths. Larry is the only man who remains tethered to reality. As the cries of song and anarchist ravings from the rest of the bar fade, an old man sits in a chair and stares out into the audience, totally alone.
The Iceman Cometh at the Quotidian takes the audience on a journey of painful recognition of reality and the off-handed nature of dreams. Dreams are not meant to be followed, but to be imagined and joked about. But this journey is so vivid with gorgeous prose and mostly exemplary performances, that this is definitely a performance worth seeing. It raises questions and sparks discussions many other plays are unable to acknowledge.