Ice Glen and The Seagull

Dave and I saw Ice Glen at the Aurora Theater Sunday night, and then noticed in the program that they were holding a free discussion group the following night, part of a new series called “The Script Club”, in which people read a play and then meet to discuss it. Apparently the play to be read is always chosen in order to complement in some way the current play at the Aurora.

The play chosen for last night’s discussion was The Seagull, so I reread it on the commute home from work yesterday (in Michael Frayn’s very readable translation), and then Dave and I attended the discussion.

Dave and I both liked Ice Glen a lot. It’s a delightful comedy with some interesting issues to chew on, and it’s wonderfully well acted. A poet has been living for a long time with a friend in a big old house in the country in Massachusetts in 1919. She almost never shows her poems, though, to anyone.

Somehow three of her poems have landed on the desk of the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and he wants very badly to publish them. He travels to the country to try to persuade her, and he becomes infatuated with her.

The owner of the house is the widow of a brilliant and outgoing man. She is lonely, reclusive, and badly misses the circle of her husband’s friends who used to frequent the house. She is attracted to the editor and tries to interest him in herself. The results of these three people’s cross purposes are what drives the play.

The choice of The Seagull was curious. Both plays are comedies about artists, and both touch on the struggle to create art, but their themes seem quite different to me. One parallel that struck me right away is that Ice Glen has a smaller version of the “A is in love with B, who is sick of A but is love with C, who is sick of B but is in love with D …” structure that runs through The Seagull: In Ice Glen, the widow, Dulce, desires the editor, Peter, who desires the poet, Sarah. And Sarah is in love with a bear who comes to visit her. Or maybe she’s imagining the bear, or perhaps the bear is just a metaphor she uses in her poems β€” we’re never quite sure.

Someone in the discussion group also brought up the use of class distinctions in both plays β€” the household in Ice Glen includes three servants β€” but neither of these parallels struck me as terribly meaningful.

And there’s a very big thematic difference between the two plays: The Seagull is about people who are stuck in ruts, and while they complain about their ruts, they choose to stay in them. It’s about a lot of people who are working at being artists but, whatever their degree of worldly success, not one of them is capturing life in his or her own art.

Ice Glen, on the other hand, is about people who are likewise stuck in ruts, but through their interactions and quarrels and missteps they eventually find a way to move out of them, and as the play ends all three have taken important steps toward significant changes in their lives. And the poet is presented to us as being genuinely talented, someone with the skill to capture something of life in her work. Not the same sort of theme as The Seagull at all.

Dave, though, came up with a startling insight while the discussion went on: Ice Glen, he noticed, has a great many thematic elements in common with another Chekhov play, the one-act comedy The Bear. The setting in both is a house in the country. The two main characters in each are a reclusive woman still pining over a painful past relationship (a description true of Sarah as well as of Dulce in Ice Glen) and a man who comes to her country home on business and falls in love with her, eventually drawing her out of her shell. There are three letters whose whereabouts are an important plot device in The Bear, just as the three poems are in Ice Glen.

And of course there’s the bear.

The more we have thought about it and discussed it since, the more Dave and I are convinced that Ice Glen is very freely but very deliberately modeled on The Bear. The structure is so similar, and there are so many things that look like deliberate hints and winks on the part of the author.

Ice Glen is playing for one more week. Dave and I are hoping to find a night we can go back and see it one more time, and I’m also hoping I’ll have the time to reread The Bear by then so it will be fresh in my mind.

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