With The Iceman Cometh set to open at the end of April, another star will get his turn to play Theodore “Hickey” Hickman along with other theatrical luminaries such as Jason Robards, James Earl Jones, Brian Dennehy, Nathan Lane, and Lee Marvin in a performance directed by John Frankeneimer and available on BroadwayHD. Set in a combination dive bar and rooming house in Greenwich Village at the turn of the 20th century, The Iceman Cometh focuses on a group of people stuck on pipe dreams, unable to make any progress in their lives.
It is exciting to see any actor, especially one as talented as Mr. Washington, take on the role of Hickey. The character stands as one of the most challenging and demanding roles in theater, comparable to George and Martha from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or any of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. There are two exciting aspects to a revival of a well-known play like Iceman. Bringing Denzel into the mix certainly creates an allure for new audiences who might not otherwise engage with O’Neill, and brings them into the theater. His performances in Raisin in the Sun, Fences, and Julius Caesar likely had the same impact.
For seasoned theater-goers, there is a delight in seeing interpretations of work. What might be different between Denzel Washington and Nathan Lane’s rendition of Hickey? Quite a lot, I’d wager. This is a way in which revivals are vital to the theater because, with the right casting, it refreshes the way in which we can understand classic texts. Reinterpretation reconnects the plays with the relevance they once had.
Another interesting question specific to this production is brought up in casting Denzel in the role of Hickey, traditionally a white character. James Earl Jones did play the role in a previous revival, but it is interesting to note that the character of Joe was written to be the only person of color in the play. Some may consider the current production, directed by George C. Wolfe, and the previous revival, to be taking liberties with the play. However, in this production, it seems to be a conscious choice and not colorblind, especially given that Hickey and Joe share the same understudy.
For now, we can say that there’s an opportunity to see one of the best actors of our time tackle one of the theater’s most demanding roles. Before you head to Broadway to check out this once-in-a-lifetime show or if you can’t get to Broadway, check out BroadwayHD’s tremendous production of The Iceman Cometh featuring Lee Marvin and a young Jeff Bridges among a star-studded cast.