note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Denby … Brian Weaver
Grayson … Dennis Krausnick
Sarah Harding … Kristin Wold
Mrs. Roswell … Gillian Seidl
Dulce Bainbridge … Elizabeth Aspenlieder
Peter Woodburn … Michael Hammond
Miss Briggs … Lydia Barnett-Mulligan
How pleasurable theatergoing becomes when a brand-new play is also a good, literate one; such is the happy birth of Joan Ackermann’s ICE GLEN at Shakespeare & Company --- Ms. Ackerman’s drama is a collection of character studies wrapped around a melodrama played out within a decaying Berkshire estate circa 1920, the manor’s decline reflecting the isolation of its owner Dulcie Bainbridge whose social life has ended with the death of her husband. Enter Peter Woodburn, a Boston editor who has received, by way of Edith Wharton, three soul-shaking poems written by Sarah Harding, Dulcie’s groundskeeper. Peter requests permission to publish these poems but Sarah demands them back as Dulcie’s husband had given them to Ms. Wharton without either woman’s knowledge. The character studies revolve around daily life amongst the servants with their bickering and their rituals which include the choreography of setting a table and the evolving love-triangle between Dulcie, Peter and Sarah while the melodrama asks why does the latter refuse to be published? The answer, when it comes, is not surprising; had the question been answered earlier on, Sarah’s scenery-chewing would have blended better with the others’ mood-music. There is a brilliant moment when Peter starts to wax autobiographically but is cut short by Dulcie who refuses to melt over his woes; her action may deprive the audience of insights into Peter’s character but makes perfect sense in context. On the other hand, the slow-witted Denby is a throwback to bumpkin comedy and soon wears out his welcome and for all the talk about Sarah’s poems, do you suppose any of them are ever spoken aloud? And then there’s that offstage bear….but enough. ICE GLEN grows and ripens on its own terms and Tina Packer has lovingly cultivated it in the Spring Lawn Theatre’s playing space, not once allowing Mr. Chekhov to make his presence felt.
Apart from Kristin Wold’s fierce Sarah who would make any sensible bear think twice before tangling with her, the fine ensemble boasts two delightful surprises: Elizabeth Aspenlieder as Dulcie and Michael Hammond as Peter. Ms. Aspenlieder is too horsy to play conventional ingénues and her stage voice is better suited to conversation than declamation, both of which make her tricky to cast in the company’s productions --- her ladylike Regan in KING LEAR proved Ms. Aspenlieder to be no villainess and the fragile, timid Mattie of ETHAN FROME became a hearty lass used to doing farm work. Creating a new character from scratch has brought out the actress’ strengths and her Dulcie is indelible and her own thanks to Ms. Aspenlieder’s high spirits and kindly presence each holding the other in check so that she can express period yearning or retribution without lapsing into soap opera and the intimate Spring Lawn space gives the impression that Ms. Aspenlider’s performance is unfolding upon a movie screen in breathtaking close-up. Twice have I seen Michael Hammond do his icy, blue-eyed thing; his Elyot in the Lyric Stage’s PRIVATE LIVES led to me ask what would we see should he ever thaw --- his performance as Peter is his answer. Within the bounds of the era’s decorum Mr. Hammond’s editor is warm and engaging --- no villain, here --- and he projects a rumpled sensitivity that will bring out the mother-seducer in many a woman’s heart. Mr. Hammond’s scenes with Ms. Aspenlieder glow with a chaste eroticism even after their flames have cooled and their dinner table set-piece where Peter talks shop while Dulcie rejuvenates through love’s calling is so exquisitely written, directed and performed that I soon wished for Sarah to make her exit, pursued by her bear, nor did I sense I was alone in my wishes --- this may not be in sync with Ms. Ackermann’s intentions but an audience has feelings, too; had Ms. Wold been more sympathetically directed I might have been more properly torn in my affections.
By now you may have heard that the handsome Italianate mansion housing the Spring Lawn Theatre has been recently sold along with 30 acres of the company’s property. The new owner intends to convert the mansion into a luxury hotel and restaurant; Shakespeare & Company plans to build a 200-seat theater on its remaining grounds. This, then, is the Spring Lawn’s final season with ICE GLEN one of its two swan songs (THE WHARTON ONE-ACTS being the other); how fortunate for Ms. Ackermann to see her play realized, there --- the give-and-take between Ms. Aspenlieder and Mr. Hammond would have been broadly played had a proscenium arch hung o’erhead at its birth. Never underestimate the power of a performing space.