Beautifully written and acted, Florida Stage hits its stride with Joan Ackermann's Ice Glen. Set in 1918, amid the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, the Ice Glen in her story is a place where rock formations allow a small deposit of ice to remain frozen year round. Yes, there is indeed an actual Ice Glen that exists in the Berkshires (though its retention of ice year round is debatable). It is near this site that our characters live and our story takes place.
Playwright Joan Ackermann is co-founder and Artistic Director of Mixed Company Theatre in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, now in its twenty-third year. Her plays have been produced in many regional theaters. Ice Glen was workshopped at the Guthrie in 2003, and Florida Stage has brought in director Michael Bigelow Dixon, lighting designer Matthew Reinert, and three performers from the Guthrie for this world premiere.
Ice Glen is a story of nature and change, and the symbolism seems clear. Nature, in this case, refers to both Mother Nature and human nature. Mother Nature orchestrates the seasonal changes that are necessary for life to continue. Within this cycle are loss and renewal, and the existence of an Ice Glen is an anomaly. Yet, it is human nature to cling protectively to that to which we are accustomed - to resist change and to fear intrusion, as if they would rob us of that which we treasure.
To grow inevitably requires change. The catalyst for change in this story is the visit of a magazine editor wishing to publish the poetry of a talented young woman, who fiercely guards her poetry as a treasure. The editor has been touched by the words of her poetry, and the seemingly frosty woman behind them. As he says of the ice in the Ice Glen, he can "feel the fire beneath the ice." For the widowed lady of the manor, change is in finding a strength and voice independent of her role as merely her late husband's companion. She ventures out into the world, much evolved from the woman who earlier has said that being without her husband is "like swimming with one arm."
Scenic designer Ray Recht deserves a separate bow for this production. His Berkshire cottage setting, tranquilly painted with foliage and stippled with light, is lovely. One would expect him to receive a Carbonell nomination for his work on this show. Elizabeth Dimon is warm and wonderful as Mrs. Woodburn, the Irish housekeeper - embracing her character from head to toe. Dan Leonard is stately as the groundskeeper Grayson, and Carlo Alban is dead on as the childlike Denby. Hats off to Alicia Roper as Dulce Bainbridge. She is an elegant and impressive actress in this piece. Her performance in act two, confronting editor Peter Woodburn, was so good that I wanted to give her exit applause.
The only performance criticism I have is of the pacing in the scene between Mr. Leonard and Mr. Goranson in act two. The pauses were so lengthy I wondered if someone had dropped a line. In terms of writing, I would have hoped for the author to define more clearly the internal conflicts of the poet and the editor. Though their characters are pivotal, they seem the least explained.
Ice Glen plays at the Florida Stage through January 16th, 2005. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. The Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and Non-Equity performers from across the United States. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837, or on line at www.floridastage.org.
* Denotes Member of Actors' Equity Association