Ice Glen and The Bear

Dave and I went back to see the final performance of Ice Glen last night. We were both very glad to have gone back, as the play and the performances seemed both richer and funnier on a second seeing.

With The Bear fresher in my mind from a rereading a few days ago, I thought the parallels were very clear, particularly in the long argument between the poet Sarah Harding and the editor Peter Woodburn near the end of the first act. In each case, the play is about a reclusive widow living in the country (well, in Ice Glen there are two reclusive women, one a widow and one divorced; looking at the two plays side by side, it’s a bit as though Popova in The Bear had been cut in two to create Sarah and Dulce in Ice Glen, and the one servant in The Bear becomes three in Ice Glen) and a brusque man who comes on a matter of pure business. As they argue, the widow’s increasing anger moves her to come out of her shell of mourning and assert her independence, and the man discovers he has a capacity for feelings he didn’t know he had. In the last few minutes of the play, the two realize their affection for each other.

As I wrote before, some papers that the widow finds hidden in her late husband’s dresser drawer — love letters in The Bear, poems in Ice Glen — are significant in both plays, and of course there’s the bear in Ice Glen, who we never see but who is practically a seventh character in the play, and who may or may not be a real bear.

Actually, after seeing the play a second time, I think it’s made clear that there is a real bear, and there is also a metaphorical bear in Sarah’s poems, but Sarah herself seems to get them mixed up in her mind.

I don’t want to push the parallels too far, because The Bear is nevertheless still just a fifteen-minute farce, though a wonderful one, and Ice Glen is a full-length and very rich comedy with a lot of different levels and layers. But the former must have been in the writer’s mind as the latter was written, and it’s fun to look at the parallel structures, to see what Joan Ackermann used from The Bear to provide some of the skeleton for her play.

The acting, as I said, seemed even sharper to both of us last night than it had before, and I don’t know whether the actors’ energy was higher because it was the last performance or because our better knowledge of the play let us catch nuances we didn’t notice the first time. The long dinner scene at the end of the first act, with Dulce (Lauren Grace, who was Hilda in last season’s The Master Builder that we liked so much) trying to attract Peter (a very handsome and likeable actor we hadn’t seen before named Marvin Greene), and Peter trying to be polite but really wanting to get through to Sarah (Zehra Berkman, who we also hadn’t seen before and who gave a beautiful performance, making the poet’s warmth and fury, self-doubt and pride, all seem perfectly understandable parts of the same character) — the dinner scene was a thorough joy, a beautifully constructed scene and beautifully acted, and if we still lived in an era of encores I might have shouted for them to do the whole thing again.

And the second act scene in which Dulce at last breaks out of her shell and asserts herself by telling off Peter (who by this point well deserves it) was a real highlight, and again both more powerful and funnier than I had remembered it being a week ago. Whether that was the actors or me, I couldn’t say. Probably some of both.

Later: Dave discovered that the Ice Glen of the play is a real place.

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