Answering the Iceman's Call: Classic Revivals Are What He Does
by Robert Fedlberg
February 14, 1999
When Kevin Spacey called and asked if he'd join the cast of "The Iceman Cometh," Robert Sean Leonard said he would read the play. By the time producer Emanuel Azenberg pushed a little harder, and said, "It's the kind of thing you do," Leonard was already hooked.
In fact, the long, epic, seldom-revived Eugene O'Neill play about the patrons of a waterfront dive -- written in 1939 but not performed until 1946 -- is the kind of thing Leonard does. He's one of the few well-known young actors who consistently appears in revivals of classic plays.
"It's hard for me to do modern plays," said Leonard. "Part of the joy of acting is to appear in these great works."
The "Iceman" revival earned rave reviews in London, most of them focusing on Spacey's portrayal of Hickey, the messianic salesman who has a profound effect on the booze-soaked regulars at Harry Hope's saloon.
"Kevin brings great excitement to the role," said Leonard, suggesting that, in addition to Spacey's considerable acting skill, the star quality he's achieved in films gives an extra buzz to his performance. When you add in the audience anticipation factor -- Hickey doesn't appear until more than an hour into the play -- you have a recipe for a singular occasion.
Leonard, who grew up in Ridgewood, and Tony Danza are among the American actors joining Spacey and members of the London company for the Broadway run.
As much as Leonard is looking forward to the production, he's also approaching it with some trepidation. His role, Don Parritt, is, he said, "one of the hardest parts in the theater."
Parritt is an anxious young man who, it turns out, is an informer on the lam.
"The play doesn't work unless you care about him," said Leonard, "and he's very hard to like. You have to be careful not to whine your way through the play.
"They told me they thought I'd be good because I have a sympathetic quality, although," he added breezily, "I certainly don't see that."
In any case, Leonard sounded as if playing Parritt is one more challenge he's looking forward to.