BWW Review: Nate Eppler's THE ICE TREATMENT Closes Actors Bridge's 20th Anniversary Season with Knee-capping Fun

BWW Review: Nate Eppler's THE ICE TREATMENT Closes Actors Bridge's 20th Anniversary Season with Knee-capping Fun
Tony Nappo, Rachel Agee and Amanda Card Compton in Nate Eppler's
The Ice Treatment.
- photo by Shane Burkeen

Rachel Agee's bravura performance - which, arguably, any actor would love to add to a resume - as a fictionalized Tonya Harding-like personality is enough to guarantee that audiences will continue to talk about the world premiere production of Nate Eppler's latest work, The Ice Treatment, for years to come. But there is so much more to the astounding show than just one scintillating portrayal: There's the playwright's uncanny ability to write dialogue and to create sharply delineated characters, the real-life inspiration for this fictional onstage treatment and the wonderful work of actors Tony Nappo and Amanda Card Compton, who give astonishing support to the leading player while showing off their own versatility.

To say The Ice Treatment is one of the most compelling new works to debut on a Nashville stage in years seems like so much hyperbole and somehow redundant - particularly considering Eppler's Good Monsters, which premiered as part of Nashville Repertory Theatre's 2015-16 season - but there it is. Without question, playwright Eppler and his beautifully constructed plays reiterate Nashville's role in helping to grow contemporary theater, and this exemplary production closes out Actors' Bridge Ensemble's 20th season in spectacular style, giving voice and providing credibility to the company's mission in grand and electrifying fashion.

While the early to mid-1990s are given their due in The Ice Treatment - who can forget the media firestorm and tabloid tumult that transpired as a result of the intense on-the-ice rivalry between Harding and the almost buck-toothed Nancy Kerrigan (here represented by "Princess Teeth") that resulted in an off-the-ice incident that was fueled by the white trash antics of Harding and her would-be henchmen? - Eppler's laser-like focus and his ability to create a fantastical world we can only dream of, allows the story to span decades of human achievement, touching upon such varied world events as the space race between the Russians and the Americans and the pop culture zeitgeist that spawned the current climate of reality TV and so much more.

The Ice Treatment, however, is not a documentary of those heady days of pre-Olympic hype and knee-capping, of astoundingly huge audiences for Barbie dolls on-ice on TV, or any of your other preconceived (and perhaps skewed) memories of what happened when, where and to whom. Instead, it's something else altogether.

With Eppler at the helm of the Actors' Bridge production, audiences are given an especially personal take on the story, one in which we see the leading player (here known simply as "Blondie" or "T.T."), warts and all. The playwright/director doesn't hold back in his interpretation of Tonya Harding and her intense disdain for Kerrigan and everything she represents now or then, nor does he pull any punches. That is not to say, however, that he treats the character disparagingly; rather, he shows us the multi-faceted aspects of the woman, who deep within her heart of hearts, is not so unlike any of us. And in his masterful way, Eppler draws his audience into the story, engaging and enlightening them as the story unfolds onstage.

Here, basically, is the plot: Blondie has hired two actors to help her in fashioning a videotaped pitch for potential producers of a new screen treatment of her story (which opens with the scene of a blonde, eight-year-old girl urinating on the bedroom carpet of a raven-haired little girl, in an effort to mark her territory - in fact, the significance of the scene becomes apparent as the play progresses) and hurtles onward, showing us the hard-scrabble life of the girl and heR Lower-class family in wild and woolly Oregon. It's a heightened version, to be sure, of what we've come to know of Harding's life (or what Google and Wikipedia can tell you in a cursory search), with plenty of laughs, guffaws and audible gasps sure to be elicted in the process.

Agee's performance is unparalleled in recent theater memory. As one of the region's most beloved actors, she delivers the startling performance that is to be expected. But what sets it apart from her earlier stage assignments - and that which separates her from the mere mortals to be found on local stages - is the immense heart that is on display from the very first moments of the play, all the way to the closing scene in which she lays bare her soul (or Blondie's soul...it's sometimes hard to tell where Blondie begins and Rachel leaves off, so compelling and so completely mesmerizing is her performance). Agee's delivery of Eppler's stream of consciousness monologues is shockingly effective: She immerses herself in her character, not so much acting each second of her life as actually living it onstage.

To say Agee's performance is one for the ages is no exaggeration or schoolboy hyperbole. It is nothing less than fact.

Amanda Card Compton and Tony Nappo, both versatile veterans of the stage, rise to the occasion to deliver performances that will linger at the top of their burgeoning resumes for some time to come. Fearless and unfettered, Compton and Nappo match Agee's intensity with flawlessly crafted characterizations, embodying all the characters who come in and out of Blondie's life with adequate flash and fireworks.

Eppler directs his actors with an understated, yet somehow highly theatrical, flair that hews dangerously close to the line of good taste and decorum, with the actors tottering ever so near to crossing it. But they remain grounded and believable even in the trickiest of scenes and you'll be hard-pressed to find an ensemble of actors delivering such nuanced performances onstage anywhere in the wide world of theatrical endeavor.

Credit Eppler's fascination for his subject matter and devotion to the integrity of his characters with that particular achievement and give credit where credit is due to Agee, Compton and Nappo for knowing just how far to go in their zeal in bringing the story to life.

Credit for the remarkably designed set and sound - a conglomeration of kitschy and fun mid-1980s teen-scream-queen décor and music - goes to Mitch Massaro, who creates the pitch-perfect world in which the play is physically set. Illuminated by Richard Davis' exquisite lighting, with Shane Burkeen's wonderful projections design. Jessika Malone's props are ideal evocations of the period, Mallory Kimbrell and Cassie Hamilton's puppets are cleverly utilized and Christen Heilman's costumes help to convey the characters with an unstudied ease.

  • The Ice Treatment. Written and directed by Nate Eppler. Presented by Actors' Bridge Ensemble at the Black Box Theatre at Belmont University's Troutt Theatre, Nashville. Playing through July 24. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission). For details, go to www.actorsbridge.org.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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