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Inside Broadway Theater Review: Denzel Washington Stars in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘The Iceman Cometh,’ An Afternoon with the Masters

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The Iceman Cometh

Denzel Washington and the Company in “The Iceman Cometh” (Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes)

*When two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington comes to Broadway, it’s always an event. Starring in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” Washington delivers a towering performance in the role of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman. The classic stage work is directed by Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe and features a first-class ensemble of some of the best character actors in American theater today.

The Company of “The Iceman Cometh” (Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Written nearly 80 years ago in 1939, “The Iceman Cometh” debuted on Broadway 72 years ago at the Martin Beck Theatre, now named the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Washington is the fourth leading actor to star in the role of “Hickey” on Broadway since the play debuted in 1946 with James Barton. Subsequent revivals starred James Earl Jones (1973), Jason Robards (1985), and Kevin Spacey (1999).

Washington was last seen on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2014; he continues his stage mastery as the title character in O’Neill’s prized classic. The three-act, nearly four-hour production was a delight.

Left to Right: David Morse, Denzel Washington, and Colm Meaney in “The Iceman Cometh” (Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes)

The play is set in the early 1900s in Harry Hope’s grungy and run-down saloon and rooming house in New York’s Greenwich Village. Harry (veteran Irish actor Colm Meaney) suffers from long-term depression and has not left the barroom since the death of his wife 20 years earlier. The 19 dive bar regulars—including two ladies of the night—are serial alcoholics whose sole purpose in life is to finagle free drinks from Harry and his bartenders.

In the opening scene in O’Neill’s epic psychodrama, the gang of slumped drunks and outcasts quarrel senselessly about their dysfunctional, purposeless lives. The first-class cast include Ed Mosher (Bill Irwin), who engages in trickery and prides himself on giving incorrect change to patrons for his own personal gain; Englishman Cecil Lewis (Frank Woods) and South African Piet Wetjoen (Dakin Matthews), veterans who fought each other in the Boer War who are now friends and hope to return to their native lands one day; and Joe Mott (Michael Potts), who looks forward to returning to the glory days when he was a shot caller in a black casino den. The only African American among them, Joe is denigrated with racial slurs by his bar mates and forced to defend his dignity.

Colm Meanery, David Morse, Danny McCarthy and Denzel Washington in “The Iceman Cometh” (Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes)

There’s Pat McGloin (Jack McGee), a former corrupt cop who would like to return to the police force; Chuck Morello (Danny Mastrogiorgio), who promises to marry his girlfriend, Cora (Tammy Blanchard); Rocky Pioggi (Danny McCarthy), a bartender who has a soft spot for working girls Margie (Nina Grollman) and Pearl (Carolyn Braver) who he allows to stay in the bar for a cut of their nightly earnings, but detests being referred to as a pimp; and Hugo Kalmar (Clark Middleton), who lives in a perpetual state of intoxication except when he is pestering others to refill his glass.

Denzel Washington and David Morse in “The Iceman Cometh” (Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Larry Slade (played by David Morse, who co-starred with Washington in the ‘80s medical drama “St. Elsewhere,” which helped launch both of their careers) is a former political anarchist and reformist, whose ex-girlfriend was part of the anarchist movement and jailed for conspiracy.

Denzel Washington in “The Iceman Cometh” (Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes)

The atmosphere becomes charged when, nearly an hour into the production, traveling hardware salesman Hickey returns after months on the road to spend time with his favorite barflies, who always appreciate Hickey’s hospitable generosity and steady rounds of drinks. The jolly and charismatic Hickey has returned to the saloon just in time to host the birthday celebration for Harry, who could care less about his born day. Hickey, who claims he converted and gave up drinking alcohol, brings a message of hope and inspiration to his buddies and encourages them to give up the bottle in exchange for a healthy and happier state of existence.

Michael Potts, Denzel Washington and The Company in “The Iceman Cometh” (Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Hickey’s “pipe dreams” message to the deferred and shattered and his delusional behavior casts a cloud of doubt and suspicion around the whereabouts of Hickey’s wife, Evelyn, which unfolds as Hickey launches into a dramatic and lengthy confessional monologue of her untimely death. It seems the self-proclaimed converter could not convert himself and has done the unimaginable and unthinkable. Washington turns in a masterful performance in these stunning moments.

More broken pipe dreams are revealed at the saloon, as Larry encounters his ex-girlfriend’s troubled and unstable son, Don Parritt (Austin Butler, who makes his Broadway debut), who confesses that he betrayed his mother and turned her into the authorities. Tormented by guilt and sorrow, Don leaps to his death.

The enduring themes of alcoholism, death, suicide, mental illness, dreams, hopelessness, and hope continue to resonate in 2018, making O’Neill’s 20th-century revival of “The Iceman Cometh” a modern-day classic. With A-list talent and a fresh vision by Wolfe, “The Iceman” will continue to captivate new generations of audiences to come. Even with its long running time, repetitive language, and overarching themes, an afternoon with the masters was magnificent.

Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” is a limited engagement running through July 1 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street, New York, NY. For information and tickets, please visit http://icemanonbroadway.com/.

 

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Gwendolyn Quinn

Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media strategist and consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She covers entertainment, travel, and lifestyle news. Quinn is a voting member of the Drama Desk. She is a contributor to NBCNews.com/NBCBLK.com, BlackEnterprise.com, HuffPost, and Medium.com, among others.

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** FEATURED STORY **

Pastor Cal Keeps Love Alive on ‘Married at First Sight’ (EUR EXCLUSIVE!)

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Pastor Cal - Calvin Roberson

eur mafs poster

*For 11 seasons, “Married at First Sight” (MAFS) has been the ultimate experiment in matchmaking as couples who have never met – complete strangers – tie the knot.

If you are not familiar with the popular Lifetime series, people looking for love are matched by relationship experts (Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Dr. Viviana Coles, and Pastor Calvin Roberson-known as Pastor Cal) and agree to tie the knot before meeting their mates.

The show follows the couples for a few weeks as they experience their first meeting at their weddings, their honeymoons, meeting each other’s families, and other milestone events all the while being counseled by the experts. At the end of each season, the couples are given the chance to continue in their marriage or get a divorce.

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Pastor Calvin Roberson (Pastor Cal) is one of the experts matching couples on “Married at First Sight.” (Photo: Lifetime)

While some may question the show’s premise, the EUR spoke to Pastor Cal recently and he said the series is genuine.

“My job on the show is to get these couples, put them together, and make sure they stay together,” said Pastor Cal. “My goal is to look at their differences, see where they’re compatible, counsel them and in some cases, threaten them, to make it work. All the experts, our focus, is simply making sure the couples stay together.”

As for a method in which the couples are matched, he added, “There isn’t a solid formula we apply to every couple. It has to be tweaked as we find out people’s peculiarities. It can be nerve-wracking but it’s rewarding in the end.”

Like many MAFS seasons, there are surprising revelations and this one, featuring couples from New Orleans, is no exception.

“Season 11 has brought us so many surprises,” Pastor Cal said. “Even in casting, one of the couples we thought would get along much quicker is one of the ones lagging behind. And one couple we thought would move slower to intimacy are moving ahead. And that’s with Miles and Karen being the slower and Woody and Amani being the faster of the two.”

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Woody and Amani in current season (11) of “Married at First Sight.” (Photo: Lifetime)

He continued, “Also, by my own admission, I fall on the sword on this one, I was not expecting Bennett and Amelia to get along so well. I thought she would be put off more by his lack of profession. It was a big surprise to me.”

The next MAFS season will include Atlanta couples and after that the show heads to Houston, which is casting now. Pastor Cal told the EUR that the show adapts to the couples from each city.

“I believe that every city we film in brings a certain flavor and the participants from that city take on the flavor from that city,” Pastor Cal said. “New Orleans is laid-back, they party, and it’s a very fun city as opposed to a city like D.C. that is very political, buttoned up, and tight. But definitely we found that every city influences the participants. We definitely see different personalities coming out of each city.”

MAFS Houston Flyer

Speaking of Atlanta, Pastor Cal is the lead pastor at Progression church in the peach city. He and his wife Wendy have a marriage coaching organization that offers marriage and relationship conferences, boot camps, and seminars worldwide.

While COVID-19 may have slowed down the in-person events, that has not stopped people from contacting Pastor Cal for love connections, “Because of COVID, we’re online. I get more people through DM’s, email, etc. asking me to match them.”

And how does the church feel about the show?

“My church actually loves it.” Pastor Cal said. “They are so supportive and such an incredible group of people. They tell people about the show. Our church was actually founded on relationships, so it was an easy fit. Our church was founded on positive marriage and positive family.”

Look out for Pastor Cal’s book, “Marriage Ain’t for Punks,” slated to come out next year.

If you are interested in being on “Married at First Sight” and live in Houston, click here to apply.

For more information on MAFS’ current season, click here.

 

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Nigerian Bread Seller Lands Modeling Contract After Photobombing Rapper’s Shoot

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Olajumoke Orisaguna

*27-year-old former bread seller Olajumoke Orisaguna captured the world’s attention a few years ago when a photo of her carrying a massive bag of bread loafs ontop of her head went viral.

She was discovered on the streets of the city of Lagos by international photographer Ty Bello, who was shooting with English rapper Tinie Tempah. Unintentionally, Orisaguna came out in one of the images.

Days later, Bello shared pictures from that shoot on his social media but with interest of finding out who the bread seller was in the photo.

“WHO IS SHE? Everyone has been asking if this lady is a model… She definitely SHOULD be a model… I’ll find a way to track her down somehow. You guys can also help,“ the photographer captioned the post.

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As PEOPLE notes, from that moment on, her life changed forever. In less than a year, Orisaguna managed to sign contracts with recognized agencies. Earlier this year, she wrapped up her tour of South Africa and she also launched a vlog and reality show.

“I never expected this would ever happen to me,” she told CNN. “My friends have told me they saw me on the TV and they are really happy. My parents cannot believe their own child can become such a success.”

In March, she celebrated the one year anniversary of her discovery. In an exclusive interview with Pulse in January, Orisaguna spoke about the people who have been influential in her rise to fame. During the interview, she thanked Azuka Ogujuiba of ThisDay Newspaper, as she was instrumental in Olajumoke’s success story.

Orisaguna, who left her two children and husband to sell bread, is now being offered by a bank to pay for her kid’s education through college.

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** FEATURED STORY **

‘Origin of Everything’ on PBS Sparks Interest with Controversial & Everyday Topics (EUR Exclusive!)

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Origin of Everything

*“Origin of Everything,” available on PBS.org, has been exploring topics since 2017 that run the gamut. The show jumps into a variety of subjects by investigating daily life like the words we use, pop culture, and why we are hooked on technology.

The show does not shy away from controversial topics such as slavery, race and ethnicity, and mass incarceration of African Americans.

Danielle Bainbridge, Ph.D., the host and lead writer of “Origin of Everything,” told the EUR in a recent interview that the series is about making people think beyond the restrictive ways we have been taught to view history.

“It’s a show about our collective story and how we are envisioning history,” Dr. Bainbridge said. ”How do we think about history that includes all of us and just not the figures and facts that we were taught in school. So, it’s a show about under told and underrepresented history. We’re trying to make history feel very present to the people who watch it.”

She continued, “One of the reasons to watch it is if you’re curious about how did we get to our current moment? How do small things such as why do we eat popcorn at the movies or what is the origin of ethnicity and how do these things still impact the way we think about the world?”

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EUR PBS Danielle Bainbridge

Dr. Danielle Bainbridge, host of “Origin of Everything,” available on PBS.org. (Courtesy of PBS)

Deftly equipped to talk about controversial topics, Dr. Bainbridge holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies and American Studies from Yale University and graduated Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in English & Theatre Arts. She is also a faculty member at Northwestern University in Theatre and African American Studies

In early 2017, when she was a graduate student, she was contacted by PBS about working on the show and thought it was a joke.

“When they first reached out to me, I thought it was a hoax,” Dr. Bainbridge said. “I was thinking how would they even know who I am because I was a graduate student? But I think they found me through a since defunct janky website that I had set up. They reached out to me, I auditioned, did a screen test, and a writing sample and after that I was hired to help develop the show.”

Viewers are encouraged to be interactive with the series because it is digital. With instant commentary from the audience, the show knows immediately what viewers think, which for the most part is positive. However, when it delves into controversial subject matters things can get sticky.

“I would say overall people are pretty positive about the series because most of the folks who watch it are longtime watchers who tune in every week for episodes,” Dr. Bainbridge said. “The only exception is if we cover more sensitive topics like, race, gender, or sexuality we will get some pushback. I think that’s just the cost of doing business with open discourse.”

One of the most controversial shows was about the transatlantic slave trade.

“We did one episode on why Europeans enslaved Africans and that was probably our most viewed episode as well as our most critiqued one,” Dr. Bainbridge said. “I think often times if you view yourself as pretty well versed in history from what you learn in school and then you learn something that goes in the opposite direction it can be jarring or for some people upsetting. We think of it as our value or service to our audience to present accurate history or history that doesn’t get told that often so that people can be informed with the whole picture.”

She added that she has an answer for those who point out that Africans sold slaves to Europeans.

“Slavery was not invented with West Africans and Europeans,” Dr. Bainbridge continued. “Some form of enslavement – whether through war, becoming a prisoner of war, or through different systems – goes back to ancient societies from around the world. So, it is not distinct to West Africa or Europe or any other region of the world.”

Dr. Bainbridge added, “But the difference with this particular moment in slavery was that it intersected with capitalism in a way that was very different with slavery that preceded it. People were taken into the system and their children inherited their status as a slave and that is where the differences started to emerge. We have to think about these things as distinct only because the system that existed with chattel slavery was so radically different than the slavery that existed around the world beforehand.”

With the ongoing protests against police brutality, “Origin of Everything” has also tackled the racist beginnings of United States law. Dr. Bainbridge breaks down the discriminatory history by looking at colonialism, slavery, the Jim Crow era, and mass incarceration.

“I decided to write this episode about legal discrimination, and I didn’t have a particular agenda in mind,” she said. “As I started doing the research it was overwhelming. I started to find (material) that just dealt with legal discrimination about black people in this country from its origin to now. I thought it was something that people needed to know.”

“I was never taught in any history class that I took through high school any of the information from that episode. I was taught that things are fair and that a lot of the blame was placed inadvertently or inherently on black communities, impoverished communities, or communities that struggle. When I saw that in some ways the law was stacked against black people and certain other populations, I thought that was important to bring to light. In this moment, people are looking for reliable sources and this could add to the conversation.”

New episodes of “Origin of Everything” are available on PBS.org and the PBS Digital Studios’ YouTube Channel. Join the conversation by visiting Twitter-@PBSOrigin and Instagram-@pbsoriginofeverything.

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