AISLE SAY New York


WHEN CLASSICS DONE WELL
CAN SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES


THE ICEMAN COMETH
by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Robert Falls
Starring Nathan Lane, Brian Dennehy
and Stephen Ouimette
A Production of Chicago's
Goodman Theatre
at the BAM Harvey Theatre
in Brooklyn

INTO THE WOODS
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by
Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld
A Production of the Fiasco Theatre
Presented by the
Roundabout Theatre Company
at the Laura Pels Theartre

Reviewed by David Spencer

Youíll forgive me if, when pressed for time, I donít spend a lot of verbiage on pieces that are standard entries in the American repertoire, newly staged in revivals you ought to see. Since they need no detailed descriptive prose for profiling, nor anything much in the way of new analysis for critical appreciation, Iím just going to give you the basic attractions thatíll make it easier for you to spend your theatre dollars with a more-than-reasonable expectation of satisfaction.

                  Eugene OíNeillís The Iceman Cometh is a mammoth play; where and whether you make cuts to the overwritten and somewhat schematic text determines whether the evening is just long or very long in terms of clock time, but if you have the elements of a keen directorial approach and a great cast, the experience, if it doesnít exactly fly by, insists that you stay alert. And the current production, that originated two years ago at Chicagoís Goodman Theatre and has now been remounted in Brooklyn at the BAM Harvey, directed by Robert Falls, does exactly that. Indeed, the dark retreat of Harry Hopeís saloon, with its stumblebum clientele clinging to pipe dreams, has never been presented better in a live NYC venue, within the lifetime of most of the people reading these words. If you've never seen it live, or at all, this is a great introduction; if you have seen itóunless you're old enough to have seen the Jose Quintero/Jason Robards production of 1956 or the Eddie Dowling/James Barton Broadway premiere in 1946 (I'm not)óthis is the standard bearer.

                  And Nathan Lane surpasses any Hickey I've ever seen, live or filmed; as a creature of light comedy and musical theatre, he's the perfect guy to play a master salesman bent on pushing a life philosophy of self-destruction. (Indeed, he's the first musicals man since the role's originator, a renowned star who somehow missed his claim to legendary remembrance, the aforementioned James Barton, to inhabit the role.) One other interesting thing: unlike any other NYC or video Hickey (including Barton), he almost precisely resembles the character as described in the text of the play, both physically and in spirit.

                  Laneís opposite headliner, Brian Dennehy, plays Hickeyís most vocal opponent, Larry Slade, with all the gravitas and tired fire due a man clinging to a life he no longer wants but fears letting go. And for those who only know Stephen Ouimette as in his contrasting ghost roles (as effete Oliver Welles in Slings & Arrows and the voice of the animated, rambunctious Beetlejuice), the cantankerous self-delusion of his Irish-accented Harry Hope will come as yet another stark contrast, marking him as one of the great go-to chameleons of his generation. The rest of the cast is equally impressive.

                  (Having referred to the screen versions, Iíll pause here to note that bothóthe 1960 television version directed by Sidney Lumet, recreating the í56 off-Broadway staging that starred Jason Robards; and the 1974 John Frankenheimer feature film starring Lee Marvinóare quite fine. But given the opportunity to see a performance that is at once live and legendary, Iíd regard them as additions to your experience of the play, not substitutes.)

**********************

Much like the fairy tales it takes inspiration from, the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Into the Woods shows a remarkable durability, standing up under numerous interpretations and directorial concepts without losing any of its essential tone or identity. And the version from the Fiasco Theatre company, currently at the Laura Pels, may be the most remarkable (which is not to say the best, though itís perfectly lovely, just the most strikingly unexpected) of all.

                  This is a minimalist staging (co-directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who are also in the cast), clearly the product of much experimentation, workshopping and improvisation, which has codified the inspirations drawn from that to give create the illusion of something spontaneous (even within the gestalt of numbers that are conspicuously staged) and, yes, improvised. A riff on black box and theatre games techniques, in which props are not literal but available stand-ins, performed by a young cast of 10 (a few of the actors playing carefully matched double and triple roles), mostly accompanied by piano (musical director Matt Castle), but sometimes also by other instruments that fall into the castís hands and wheelhouse (both real instruments and, like the props, created from available material), itís about as successfully reductive as the piece can beóand may prove a template by which other theatre companies, without resources for a full production, can give rise to their greater musical ambitions.

                  If I have a carp, itís that I wonder if the start of the show (the getinta as we in musical theatre sometimes glibly call an introductory passage) is quite as clearly defined as it might be. Into the Woods frontloads an awful lot of information, and Iím not entirely certain the re-envisioning will nail it for anyone who doesnít know the show from previous encounters. (And you canít tell in New York City, where you get the feeling that pretty much everyone in the audience does.) But it sorts itself out soon enough, and proves itself to be delightful.

                  So go be delighted.

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