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A CurtainUp Review

Icebound, that's what we are inside and out. — Ben
Olivia Killingsworth & Quinlan Corbett(Photo: Jacob J. Goldberg)
A family of selfish, greedy, mean-spirited rural New Englanders are the core of Icebound the play by Owen Gould Davis, Jr. that received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1923. It is a fine, if not extraordinary play, in which dissension is created among the family awaiting the impending death of the matriarch and dealing the unexpected and unwelcome return of the estranged black sheep.

This play was another leg up for Davis following his 1921 success on Broadway with Detour which was revived two years ago by the Metropolitan Playhouse).

Davis, who was officially done in 1923 with writing the hundreds of pot-boiling melodramas that had brought him great success and prosperity on the touring circuit, paints an almost Eugene O'Neillianesque portrait of swarming rural New England malcontents. High anxiety rules the roost, as the vultures sit around, gripe at each other and pretend to mourn even as they await hearing the contents of the will to be read by family friend and confidante Judge John Bradford (Rob Skolits).

Well-acted and simply staged with the audience (the theater accommodates only fifty-one) seated on three sides of the rather small performing area, Icebound has no difficulty under Alex Roe's direction in securing our immediate involvement with its emotionally charged characters. Written in the days when having twelve characters inhabit a plot was no big deal, director Roe commendably empowers each of the actors to make their own distinctive mark, especially as they are often all seen together.

The play is set in late October 1922 mostly in the modest parlor of the Jordan family's homestead in Veazie, Maine. A pair of barren trees frame the interior in which there are two small writing desks, a love-seat, a few chairs and a wood-burning stove.

Gathered like "crow buzzards" is how Ben (Quinlan Corbett) sees the family as they await to hear from Doctor Curtis (Victor Barranca) and, more importantly, from the judge whose reading of the will sends shock waves through the family.

Ben, the family black sheep, who having accidently set fire to a neighbor's barn has fled town fearing prosecution is particularly shocked. Knowing the consequences of his crime, he's nevertheless returned after hearing from his mother's ward and second cousin Jane Crosby (Olivia Killingsworth) that his mother is dying.

The plot thickens when it's revealed that Jane, who has been the old woman's sole care-giver and companion for the past eight years, has not only been left the farm and it's management but also all the money. . . save a hundred dollars each to be doled out to the surviving children.

There is a hitch to the bequest that involves Jane's ability to straighten out Ben's legal trouble and also getting him to remain and work the farm with her. And don't you know, Ben can't see what prompts Jane's conditions or her feelings for him, as he begins a fling with the flirtatious and spoiled Nettie (Michelle Geisler), the adopted daughter of Emma Jordan (Maria Silverman)

These hypocritical, self-centered and contentious family members who have lived off the profits of the farm, borrowed extensively and have shown no affection for their now-deceased parent are an amusing bunch. We listen intently as they bicker and bark at each other all the while affecting airs of entitlement. No doubt they resent the always respectful, resilient and determined Jane's power over them. . .even as they continue to plead for loans and support.

Corbett is excellent as the short-sighted Ben who, though he cannot abide the coldness of his kin, cannot feel the warmth extended to him by Jane — a lovely performance by Killingsworth. In between the oldest and presumably head of the family Henry Jordan (Kelly King) ) and the sniffling youngest Orin (Connor Barth) are family members, as played by Alyssa Simon and Anne Bates, who may be identifiable for their concerted smirking, snarling and snapping.

The denouement is somewhat predictable as well as perplexing. But that should keep some conversation going on a play that isn't likely to be taken out of the deep freeze very often.

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: I attended the same press preview as Simon. The one big regret seeing this well-directed and acted old-fashioned drama left me with, is that Curtainup hasn't covered some of this company's previous plays. I was especially impressed with the way that Roe navigated his large cast on the small stage and without losing sight of the thrust seating. Consequently, even people seated in the side sections experience play exactly as those in the center.

While this is a fine company, well worth a visit, a caveat for anyone who has problems climbing stairs. The theater is located on the second floor and there's no elevator.

Finally, as Simon noted you're unlike to get another chance to see Icebound on either stage or screen any time soon ­ this even though it had a successful three month run on Broadway and beat out Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine for the 1923 Pulitzer. It was made into a silent movie version (considered a "lost" film ), and also adapted in 1951for a little remembered TV series called The Pulitzer Prize Playhouse And oh, yes, Gertrude Lawrence starred in the London production in 1928, her first "dramatic" stage role. ­e.s
Icebound by Owen Davis
Directed by Alex Roe
Cast: Maria Silverman (Emma Jordan), Kelly King (Henry Jordan), Michelle Geisler (Nettie Jordan), Alyssa Simon (Sadie Fellows), Anne Bates (Ella Jordan), Connor Barth (Orin Fellows), Victor Barranca (Dr. Curtis), Olivia Killingsworth (Jane Crosby), Rob Skolits (Judge John Bradford), Quinlan Corbett (Ben Jordan), Sidney Fortner (Hannah), Gregory Dann (Jim Jay)
Set Design: Alex Roe
Lighting Design: Christopher Weston
Costume Design: Sidney Fortner
Stage Manager: Katy Moore
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 East 4th Street
General Admission: $25; $20 students/seniors, and $10 children under 18
Thursdays -Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm; plus Monday 09/22 at 7:30 pm - Pay What You Will; Wednesdays, 10/08; 10/15 at 3 pm; Saturdays 10/11 & 10/18 at 3 pm.
From 09/19/14 Opened 09/26/14 Ends 10/19/14
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/21/14
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