by David Lally · September 30, 2014
Rob Skolits, Michelle Geisler, Connor Barth, Maria Silverman, Alyssa Simon, Kelly King, Anne Bates, Quinlan Corbett | Stephen Leong
I have had a long association with the Metropolitan Playhouse, having seen my first show back in their 11th Season and ultimately volunteering at the theatre for several years after that. Now in its 23rd season, the season of Progress (each season is themed), I am constantly amazed at how the Metropolitan can dig up old chestnuts and bring them to life again, having an even greater meaning for today’s audiences.
Icebound is just the latest example of this knack for picking the right play at the right time. With new global conflicts undermining our familiar order, and our internal disputes over immigration policy and the definition of what is American culture, the play resonates to today’s uncertain future. The title not only refers to the icy winter that is coming (it is Maine, after all) but also to the ice that seems to run through the veins of the Puritan Jordans and to their uncertain future upon the death of their matriarch. I grew up in New England and seeing the Jordans interact in their everyday life brought back my childhood. Yes, New Englanders haven’t changed much in all these centuries and Owen Davis pokes gentle fun at their haughty and prideful attitudes, of which you can see right through to their true intentions.
The play, billed as a comic love story warm as the New England winter, has a brilliant setup. When the cold matriarch of the Jordan family dies, she leaves her fortune and estate to a grim step-cousin, stranding her three grasping and entitled eldest children. To compound the injury, the new heiress refuses them any assistance, and she takes on as a hand the black sheep of the family: their ne'er-do-well brother on the run from the law. She proves a stern task-master; he a resentful partner, yet they begin to envision a better future in spite of themselves. The simple dilemma playwright Davis has created somehow turns into a puzzle box of surprises as we find out the matriarch’s true intentions and her ultimate plan that she hopes the step-cousin will carry out. There’s a reason this play won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. As events transpire and the play reaches its ultimate conclusion, there are surprises aplenty as new alliances are formed and characters turn on a dime when fortunes change.
The cast is uniformly excellent and there is not one bad note in any performance. But I would be remiss in not mentioning Kelly King as eldest brother Henry, Alyssa Simon as Henry’s judgmental sister Sadie, Olivia Killingsworth as step-cousin Jane, and Quinlan Corbett as black sheep Ben. The opening act, where the family sits in almost excited anticipation (all covered in pious mourning and judgement) of the impending death of the matriarch is particularly fun to watch. We get to know this family as they interact with each other on this collective deathwatch. It is also great to watch the growing chemistry of Killingsworth and Corbett as the play progresses and they are forced to work together to restore the farm and turn Ben into a respectable human being and member of society. In turn they create a new culture of living for this staid family, dragging them from their Puritan ethic into practicality.
I’ve often marveled at how the Metropolitan constantly changes its theatre space to create an immersive theatrical experience. As you enter the theatre into this harsh, cold exterior setting, from the barren trees that line the set to the hay that lies at your feet on the floor, the characters play out their lives mere inches from your face. You can’t help but feel almost as an eavesdropper into their private conversations. It is truly an experience you don’t get at most theaters.
The beautiful costume work by Sidney Fortner and the distressed winter setting Alex Roe has created blend seamlessly to create the cold and stark setting. Mr. Roe’s smooth direction is always highlighted by his amazing bag of tricks and there are some technical touches that will delight you.
May I suggest you progress down to East 4th Street and see Icebound before it closes October 19th?