Dennehy, Lane embark on O'Neill's 'Iceman'

Associated Press
In this April 20, 2012, production photo provided by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, actors Brian Dennehy, left, portraying one-time syndicalist-anarchist Larry Slade and Nathan Lane as Theodore “Hickey” Hickman perform in a scene in Eugene O’Neill’s "The Iceman Cometh" directed by Robert Falls. The epic drama runs through June 17. (AP Photo/Courtesy of The Goodman Theatre, Liz  Lauren)
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CHICAGO (AP) — The lure of Eugene O'Neill strikes Chicago again, as actors Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane partner with the Goodman Theatre for the playwright's epic, nearly five-hour drama "The Iceman Cometh."

Dennehy and Goodman artistic director Robert Falls — famous for their O'Neill collaborations — are revisiting the piece more than two decades after they first embarked on it. This time Dennehy switches roles, playing anarchist Larry Slade and Lane takes on salesman Theodore "Hickey" Hickman.

Opening night is Thursday and the show runs through June 17.

The piece may seem atypical for Lane, known for bright musicals and comedic roles, like "The Producers" or this spring's "Mirror Mirror." But the actor said he was looking for a challenge and found it in a play he's loved since he first read it as a young man.

"I needed to use other muscles and I wanted the challenge of climbing this mountain," he said in an interview. "This is sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see this epic work."

Epic is the right word for O'Neill, America's only Nobel Prize-winning dramatist, and particularly for "The Iceman Cometh." The Goodman Theatre lists the approximate running time as 4 hours and 45 minutes with three intermissions.

"This play, probably uniquely among American plays, is incredibly difficult to do," Dennehy said. "It's also O'Neill at his thorniest. He's hectoring. He's repetitive. He has a melodramatic flair when he writes. His work is like a tidal wave. It's like a tsunami. It's relentless. It's powerful."

Falls said the length isn't what's important and audiences will leave the theater, "enthralled and invigorated by what they've seen."

Over the years, Dennehy and Falls have had an enormously productive relationship with O'Neill, having worked together on such plays as "Long Day's Journey Into Night," ''Hughie" and "A Touch of the Poet."

Lane isn't the first Hollywood actor to join Dennehy onstage in an O'Neill production at Goodman. Actress Carla Gugino starred opposite him in 2009's "Desire Under the Elms," which went on to a short Broadway run.

"There is this thing that exists in the business where actors, once they feel like they've accomplished something, they say, 'I'd really like to take on O'Neill,'" Dennehy said. "He's our Shakespeare."

Lane calls the play an American classic and a masterpiece.

"It's a privilege to do these plays, and certainly this one," Lane said. "The more I work on it, it's so extraordinarily beautiful and hilarious and incredibly tragic. I don't think you could ever get bored doing this stuff because it's so complex and asks you to go to the darkest place in your soul."

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