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By Nicholas Kryah (Metro Theater Company)

Metro Theater Company's new piece, Nicholas Kryah's Iceman: A New Play for the Millennium, is a unique literary (let alone dramatic) work: It explains grownups to children. MTC ordinarily holds the youngest members of its audience enthralled but also brings an experienced and accepting smile to the sternest lips in the United States, those belonging to the 14- to 18-year-olds. Iceman is different. It may appeal here and there to little ones with its clowns, a drifting set to clamber over and about, and drummers out there where you can see them pounding. But that set is scary, and lots of people, little and not so little, wouldn't want to climb on it themselves and might not like seeing other people do so, either. A guy could fall, no matter how careful he might be.

There's a lot of darkness, too, and not just on the set, where figures in shapeless cloaks with hooded faces drift in and out, often scaring the dickens out of the nice daddy-type guy who is Iceman's protagonist, along with the audience. And when the nice daddy-type guy is a kid, and his mom makes him go off by himself to scary places like the first day of school, the kiss she puts in his lunchbox just in case might not help. And this kid has dreams of shadows and shapes around his bed that only a fast-talking grandma can deal with. And when this kid grows up to be the nice-daddy type, maybe he's not so nice. He has a bee in his bonnet about something that absorbs him so much that he isn't really there when he should be but is wandering off in his head to a 5,000-year-old corpse somewhere in the Italian Alps that came out of a glacier. He thinks so much about it that he can't talk about anything else, even though there are things that need talking about.

So maybe Iceman isn't for even a bright 8-year-old; someone a bit older, 10 and up, might not get shivery from the set -- or might, but might enjoy the shivers. Young teens from middle-class homes -- where work-at-home moms are on the phone a lot and what dad does away from home is one gigantic, so-scary-it-frightens-you-to-boredom mystery -- will find Iceman's window on the world of grownups fascinating. The really insightful teenager may even grab some pity and fear (along with a lot of chuckles and a good deal of theatrical flamboyance) in being shown that parents have trouble with knowing who they are, too. Confusion doesn't clear up when you get to age 35. Wives and husbands have to go along with one another on faith and patience, which is what married love really is. Few adult plays make their point as clearly as Iceman does, but that's Metro Theater Company's way -- continually surprising us by doing what they always do.

An astonishing amount of performing and technical art has gone into Iceman. Metro Theater Company generally needs a setup that's as much prop as it is set, so John Roslevich Jr., the Rep's master propmaker, was chosen to make the stark white set, at once cold and intriguing, suggesting ice, mountains, trees, columns, fir trees and snowflakes. John Wylie's lighting design generally keeps things dark because much of the action occurs in the head of the nice-daddy type, a dark place indeed. Still, his colored lights give Clyde Ruffin's white costumes and Roslevich's set a shadowy, bad-dreamy variety. When a scene needs brightness -- usually a scene in ordinary time -- Wylie uses a bright spot to put things into the here-and-now.

James Mobberley's splendid percussive score underlies almost every moment of Iceman, except when it becomes a major part of the action, not just the sound. The Nuclear Percussion Ensemble's Henry Claude, Kirk Grice and Adam Rugo do very well by the composer and even join in the action now and again.

Nicholas Kryah is charming and exasperating as "I," the protagonist I've been calling the nice-daddy type. Susan Myers, playing I's wife, mother and grandmother, makes all three women loving and lovable. Cynthia Barrett plays a dog anyone would wish to follow her home. She also joins Kate Frank and Juan Salvati in being policemen, dancing primitive folk, circus performers, dopey psychologists and more et cetera than you could shake a stick at.

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