Director George C. Wolfe does not typically do revivals, but when presented with the opportunity to work with Denzel Washington on “The Iceman Cometh” he felt inspired.
“I like to do new work, but if I can locate the intimacy and the urgency then I feel like I can give something to it,” Wolfe said.
The urgency of “The Iceman Cometh,” which opened Thursday at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in the fourth Broadway revival of the play, according to Wolfe, is the question of how to retain a sense of self when illusions are stripped away.
“I think it’s a question that some of us are asking abstractly and some of us are asking in a very real immediate way,” Wolfe said. “It’s about survival, and it’s about hope and possibility and dreams and despair and how they all dance beautifully and tragically and poetically together.”
Eugene O’Neill’s play brings forth this idea through its ragtag crew of drunks marooned in a Manhattan bar, where they each imagine that they will fulfill their ambitions tomorrow, while thwarting the reality of their situation with another drink. That is until Hickey, played in this production by Denzel Washington, shatters those fantasies.
Producer Scott Rudin, whom Wolfe recently worked with on the 2016 Broadway production of “Shuffle Along,” initially brought together Wolfe and Washington for an underdetermined project, according to Wolfe.
“The Iceman Cometh” was chosen after Rudin, who previously produced “Fences” and “A Raisin in the Sun” starring Washington, put together a list of five to 10 plays for Washington to read and decide on together.
In the end, Washington said he settled on “The Iceman Cometh” because he, like Wolfe, felt it was the right time for him to take it on.
“The first play I ever did was Eugene O’Neill’s ‘The Emperor Jones,’ so here I am revisiting him again and coming off of working with another great playwright, August Wilson,” Washington said. “These are the great plays and I’m sure every actor that gets the opportunity would welcome the challenge.”