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Review: ‘The Iceman Cometh’ at the Goodman Theatre

Robert Falls is directing 'The Iceman Cometh' for second time more than 20 years Goodman Theatre Chicago.  |

Robert Falls is directing "The Iceman Cometh" for the second time in more than 20 years at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times Media

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‘THE ICEMAN
COMETH’

◆ Through June 17

◆ Goodman Theatre,
170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago

◆ Tickets, $61-$133

The show is sold out, but exchanged or returned tickets may become available throughout the run.

Also, standby tickets are available for purchase by calling the box office for availability.

Follow Goodman Theatre on
Facebook and Twitter to be the first to know about seats that open up.

◆ (312) 443-3800;
goodmantheatre.org

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Updated: July 3, 2012 12:17PM



When Brian Dennehy starred as Theodore “Hickey” Hickman in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theatre in 1990, he stole the show.

Now, in a new revival of the classic drama at the Goodman, Nathan Lane plays Hickey and Dennehy plays Larry Slade — and once again, Dennehy steals the show.

Maybe that’s because Slade appears to be a stand-in for the playwright, or maybe it’s because Dennehy plays the anarchist character with such intensity that one can’t help but be mesmerized by him.

Although Lane gives the part of Hickey his all, one isn’t assured that it’s the role he was born to play.

“The Iceman Cometh” is O’Neill’s best work, yet the most difficult to mount. Thankfully, director Robert Falls is more than up to the challenge.

With a deep understanding of O’Neill, Falls has become the best current interpreter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright in the United States.

From the opening of the show in which lights highlight what looks like a painting to the production’s last moment with characters frozen in place, this is a lavish production.

Its evocative staging creates a mood of fierce honesty conjured up by a terrific team of designers, which include sets by Kevin Depinet, lighting by Natasha Katz and costumes by Merrily Murray-Walsh.

It all takes place in Harry Hope’s saloon where a group of alcoholics and pipe dreamers hang out.

These men are drowning personal sorrows in drink as they await the arrival of Hickey, the charming traveling salesman who has regaled them in the past with stories and practical jokes.

When Hickey finally shows up, though, he’s a changed man. No longer is he in denial and in delusion. He has sobered up and sees life in a new way.

He has found the light and wants the same for his fellows in Harry’s bar. To that end he pushes the pipe dreamers to change their lives and do what he believes is good for them.

Although O’Neill wrote “The Iceman Cometh” in 1939 and set the action in 1912, the play is still relevant because it deals with human nature, and human nature always remains the same.

Hickey’s attempt to push others into doing what he believes is good for them, regardless of what they want, is at the heart of modern tyranny.

It’s always some leader forcing others to follow his idea of the good because he knows better than they do, which creates totalitarian states.

This revival of “The Iceman Cometh” is a powerful achievement.

From a stunning performance by Dennehy to a cast of some of Chicago’s best actors (Larry Neumann, Jr., John Judd, John Reeger, James Harms and Marc Grapey), the show moves so fast that you’re unaware that it’s more than a four-hour production.

This is the must-see show of the season.

Betty Mohr is a local freelance writer.



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