NEW YORK — Splayed across tables and chairs in a frieze of dissipation, the assorted boozehounds, sots and inebriates of “The Iceman Cometh” await their flush messiah, whom they know will be on hand soon to stake them to another round of the only hope they have left.
And sure enough, courtesy of director George C. Wolfe’s intermittently pleasurable revival of Eugene O’Neill’s revered 1946 play, in walks the man himself, Theodore Hickman, known to all as Hickey, and on this occasion portrayed by none other than Denzel Washington. The seedy nest of barflies erupts and so, naturally, does an audience in Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where the production had its official opening Thursday night.
Washington’s arrival is an electrifying pinnacle of this elliptical, marathon play, which in this outing clocks in at almost four hours. His Hickey creates his own brand of climate change — it’s a big, jaunty star turn — and many of his castmates respond in kind, sending up individual flares of illumination. Among the best are Reg Rogers as Jimmy Tomorrow, the broken-down journalist; Tammy Blanchard’s Cora, the hooker trying to go straight; Bill Irwin as Ed Mosher, a circus man who’s lost the magic; and Colm Meany’s Harry Hope, the ex-political hack who owns the bar.
But — and it’s a sizable but — this “Iceman” feels rather oddly choppy, and the crucial turning point — in which the drunks, at Hickey’s urging, sober up and scatter to discover that their pipe dreams are indeed empty — reveals comic impact but no poignant undercarriage. O’Neill’s monologues are delivered lyrically intact, but a tragic thread in the play has been shortchanged: The bond between Hickey and the others never achieves that mystical dimension that is fast to evaporate, as the truth about Hickey at last sinks in. And so, the long day’s journey with the play feels somewhat short of complete.
“Iceman” is celebrating its opening as Broadway is taking its final breaths of the 2017-18 season, with a spate of play revivals that have underlined a disappointing season with more notable old plays than new ones. (Tony nominations are to be announced Tuesday morning.) The most entertaining of the late-inning rollouts is from London, a remounting of Tom Stoppard’s 1975 historical fantasia, “Travesties,” at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre. Under Patrick Marber’s tirelessly inventive direction, a cast featuring the inspired Tom Hollander in the pivotal role provides a sparkling return to Stoppard’s revolutionary carnival of Zurich in 1917, where various intellectual and political vanguards of the new century are wittily bumping into one another.
Communism, in the person of Lenin (Dan Butler), and modernism, as embodied by James Joyce (Peter McDonald), find voice in this comedy of hatching philosophies. Along for the ride, too, is Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of the dada anti-art movement and here played to florid perfection by Seth Numrich of “War Horse” fame. Sure, it’s all a bit chaotic, but given the heady clash of ideas that the play tries to dramatize, wouldn’t that be about right? For added theatrical dazzle, the plot is wrapped up in the mechanics of the English-speaking theater’s greatest farce, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” with the spirits of two of Oscar Wilde’s characters, splendidly played by Scarlett Strallen and Sara Topham, upgrading the evening’s effect to total effervescence.
A few blocks away, at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, a revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” officially opened this week, with Condola Rashad in the title role. It’s the sort of creditable handling of Shaw you’d expect at any good theater. With a distinguished director, Daniel Sullivan, and some accomplished players, John Glover, Patrick Page, Robert Stanton, Jack Davenport, Daniel Sunjata and Adam Chanler-Berat among them, the historical drama holds up just fine. Although Rashad’s interpretation relies on a conveyance of Joan’s eerie self-confidence rather than her ability to fire up the French forces against the English, the actress’s heroic bearing confirms the magnetic aspect of her gifts, too.
The Iceman Cometh, by Eugene O’Neill. Directed by George C. Wolfe. About 4 hours. Tickets: $79-$209. Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St., New York. 212-239-6200. telecharge.com. Travesties, by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Patrick Marber. About 2 1 2 hours. Tickets: $59-$252. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., New York. 212-719-1300. roundabouttheatre.org. Saint Joan, by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Dan Sullivan. About 3 hours. Tickets: $65-$199. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York. 212-239-6200. telecharge.com.