Broadway review

Review: Denzel Washington and the Slow Agony of ‘The Iceman Cometh’

The Daily Beast

April 26, 2018

The Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s play struggles to focus and articulate its big themes, despite the starry presence of Denzel Washington playing the mysterious Hickey.

As the curtain rises on the new Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, we see a stage full of men in silent, unconscious inebriation; a Hogarthian image frozen beautifully in Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer’s lighting.

We are in Harry Hope’s (Colm Meaney) bar, just before dawn, one day in 1912, in downtown New York. Harry’s second name is ironic: You may as well abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Santo Loquasto’s brilliant design imagines O’Neill’s description of the bar perfectly: It is dank, dirty, a hovel of a place with rooms above, where two prostitutes board. It is home for all the alienated, damaged characters who have no other homes where they would rather be, or should be.

That is apart from an escapee from the bar, a salesman called Hickey (full name: Theodore Hickman), here played by Denzel Washington (who, among his many awards, won a Tony for his performance in Fences in 2010).

Hickey is set to return to the bar on one of his twice-a-year sorties back to his buddies. Hickey is determined that his apparent success story should inspire the dissolute denizens of Harry’s bar to do the same; to leave this place, put down their glasses, wash their shirts, and succeed.

Some chance. In George C. Wolfe’s production (full disclosure: one of its producers is Barry Diller, chairman of IAC, which owns The Daily Beast), we see all too clearly the paralyzing co-dependency they all have with both the demon drink, and their own inner demons.

The men are as scattered around the stage as their personal stories and backchat. O’Neill’s anguished character studies—flowering randomly into life, clashing into one another—need to be contained and the participants magnified or they become diffuse and make only fleeting impact.