Escape the dead with ice-cold brew, "Iceman Cometh"
By Lou Fancher
With a Zombie Pub Crawl bringing the dead to life on Sept. 4 and the 15th Annual Eugene O'Neill Festival's evocative presentation of "The Iceman Cometh" coming Sept 19-28 to Tao House, escapism is unavoidable, even commonplace.
The first getaway begins with "The Plague" at Bothwell's Downtown Art Studios, where in-house professional makeup artist Val Daft and studio artists will convert up to 220 everyday Joe's and Josephine's age 21 and older into gruesome masterpieces.
The intriguing preparatory process involves, but is not limited to, multiple steps: coat hair with goo; stretch and stipple skin with latex, allowing skin to "snap back" before applying instant oatmeal and slapping on poorly constituted, nuked-but-not-boiled gelatin to create "dirty, rotten skin." Experts on the event's Facebook page advise on coloration, too: green face makeup is gory-good and corn syrup with red food coloring completes the whole bloody mess. Dressed in a zombie's finest rags and clutching glow-in-the-dark Night of the Livermore Dead beer mugs, participants will ambulate -- note: real zombies trudge and limp, not walk -- through downtown Livermore.
Local barkeepers and pub owners will lure the ghoulish gangs indoors with a half-pint-at-half-price deal (Americans love a bargain, even after they're "dead"). A "Thriller" flashmob led by the Livermore School of Dance at the Bankhead pavilion wraps up the night of the living dead. Tickets are $15 to 20, but the event is subject to selling out, so check it out before you stock up on hot cereal and lukewarm gelatin. Even if you can't be one of the dead, onlooking promises to provide worthwhile horror.
Two weeks later, Tao House's Old Barn in the Danville hills will be the site of a very different sort of revival: the first presentation of O'Neill's "Iceman" in the Bay Area since 1975. Written in 1939, premiering on Broadway in 1946, and set in the anesthetizing atmosphere of a West Side New York City down-and-dirty barroom, every character is high on alcohol's perfume and the smoke of personal "pipe dreams." Reverberating with tension when the group's traveling ringleader blasts holes in their boozy bubbles, the classic tale comes loaded with contemporary disharmonies. As a master storyteller, O'Neill knew that losing one's life's dream was akin to losing one's life and therefore, "Iceman" is inherently relevant and dramatic, zombies or no zombies.
Eric Fraisher Hayes, a member of the O'Neill Foundation's board and artistic director of Danville's Role Players Ensemble, directs the production. In a mid-August interview, he offered a sneak peak into his approach to mounting the work.
"This a big play and it needs to be played big," he wrote in an email.
Hayes has taken the sometimes-four-hour story and culled approximately three hours he said are "active," "poetic," and "powerful." Amplifying the role illusions play in creating truths, he likened experiencing "Iceman" to climbing a mountain. "I would never say there is no effort involved, but the view from the top is amazing," he promised.
Directing this particular play for the first time in his career -- he's directed more than a dozen other O'Neill productions -- Hayes will rely on having read the playwright's entire canon in the order it was written.
"I see connections throughout his work that I never would have made otherwise," Hayes said. "He was refining his work through his entire career (and) finding more insight and humility for the characters as he grew as an artist."
Performing "Iceman" within view of O'Neill's study resonates powerfully with Hayes. It's possible the actors will stand in the exact spot where O'Neill focused as he gazed out the window, contemplating a passage or repeating aloud a line in the script, Hayes suggested. "As an homage, we will be turning on the (study light) during evening performances so that the audience may capture an imaginative glimpse of how the creativity of that study reached the creativity of the stage," Hayes says.