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The Iceman Cometh | Hydeware Theatre

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Brian Hyde portrays Hickey with all the slickness of a traveling salesman and the certainty of a messiah, and is equally effective when that veneer crumbles at the end.

 

By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by John Shepherd
Through March 25, 2006

The Iceman Cometh is demanding theater, both of the performers as well as the audience. Hydeware Theatre’s production of the Eugene O’Neill play is definitely that, in many ways.

Performed in the Studio at the Regional Arts Commission, the play centers around the patrons of Harry Hope’s Bar and Boarding House, all of whom have reached the end of the line and have nowhere else to go, though each of them in their own way has a delusion, a pipe dream that holds them up but perhaps also holds them back. Rocky the bartender is in denial that he’s a pimp; his “tarts” Margie and Pearl are in denial that they’re something other than common prostitutes; and James is always planning on going to ask for his job back, but he’s always planning to do it tomorrow (which gives him his nickname, Jimmy Tomorrow). The play opens with them waiting for the arrival of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman, their salesman pal who can always be counted on to stoke the merriment with a round (or ten) of drinks. When he shows up this year for Harry’s 60th birthday, though, he’s sobered up and is a different man, come to sell his old friends on the idea that holding onto their pipe dreams is what’s keeping them from contentment. Whether they’re interested in what he has to sell or not, he’s going to make them buy.

Among a generally excellent cast, standout performances come from Robert Mitchell as Larry, the fatalistic “fool-osopher” who’s come to Harry’s disillusioned with his former revolutionary cause and burned out on life. He’s just waiting for, as he calls it, “the long sleep,” and Mitchell imbues the drunken philosopher bum with weight and a sense of nobility, even if it is a false one. Ken Haller as Harry also captures the gamut of emotions felt by the agoraphobic widower, from false cheer to profound sadness to often startling outbursts of rage. Brian Hyde portrays Hickey with all the slickness of a traveling salesman and the certainty of a messiah, and is equally effective when that veneer crumbles at the end. And it’s at the end when Hyde shows how talented he is, delivering with conviction Hickey’s lengthy soliloquy of exactly how he killed more than just his pipe dream.

They all make the best of a less than ideal performance space. The Studio lacks any discernible stage and is more of a large gallery space boasting high ceilings, where, for much of the first act, the actors’ dialogue rises and gets lost. Likewise, some of the audience seating is at tables in the “stage” area itself. Unfortunately, the venue lacks an intimate character that would make such a technique more effective. Only a couple audience members ventured to sit there on the performance I saw, and given that the large ensemble cast just outnumbered the audience that evening, it felt a bit disjointed and empty. If everyone had been obliged to sit at tables, it may have had a greater impact.

If you’re not familiar with the play, be warned: it’s long. At four and a half hours, it’s about as long as it might take to run a marathon—and by the time it’s over, you might feel like you have. Even if the play were shorter, the subject matter would likely leave you exhausted anyway. O’Neill challenges viewers to wonder whether their ambitions and dreams are realistic or, like the worn-out lowlifes who populate Harry’s, just pipe dreams that only cause suffering the longer they are held. The answer, at least in The Iceman Cometh, is never clear.

Directed by John Shepherd, The Iceman Cometh runs through March 25. It might be wise to bring coffee.

Hydeware Theatre presents Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh through March 25 at the Studio in the Regional Arts Commission (6128 Delmar Blvd., University City). Performances Thurs. through Sat. at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission/$10 students & seniors, available at the box office, and at all MetroTix outlets (314-534-1111).

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