“Ice Cream” is a Sudler production and, for better and for worse, it shows.
The show, which goes up at the Off-Broadway Theater this weekend, features a talented cast drawn from Yale’s large pool of undergraduate actors. The technical aspects and directing are inspired. But while the performance is excellent, the piece chosen for production is, like those of many other Sudler shows, markedly less commendable.
The story of Caryl Churchill’s “Ice Cream” — the title being a reference (of marginal relevance to the play) to the tendency of Americans to place emphasis on the “Ice,” whilst Britons emphasize the “Cream” — follows an American couple’s exploration of their family roots in England and the dark, violent events that unfold once they find them. While the show’s plot, simmering with murder and incest, is compelling, the conveyance to the audience leaves something to be desired.
Every so often, the show launches into a scene where the actors silently perform actions (all related, apparently, to consumerism) to the sound of deliberately grating techno. While the cast does its best to perform these scenes, they come across as the sort of tired avant-garde fluff that is all but obligatory in a script of this nature.
The play’s attempts to touch on certain subjects, such as Anglo-American cultural tensions, are not very successful. Fortunately, the script focuses on other areas such as the interpersonal rifts in modern life and the absurdities of psychoanalysis. These topics, while a little cliched for a contemporary play, are at least treated with a few fresh insights from the playwright.
The one dramatic success of Churchill’s script is its deliberate insertion of the audience into scenes at unconventional times. While this device could be jarring and unnecessary, it instead serves to convey the play’s own sense of what is actually relevant in human interactions.
Whatever the weaknesses of the play they have to work with, the cast does a remarkable job of acting in it. Josh Odsess-Rubin ’08 and Molly Fox ’08 are particularly moving as a couple whose gradual estrangement from each other becomes overshadowed by their inability to communicate with anyone else.
While not the most plausible Englishman, Sam Kahn ’08 is remarkably good at revealing his character’s depravity just gradually enough to keep an audience engaged. Jessie Bridgett ’08 is a significantly more convincing Briton — perhaps because she is actually from London — and her portrayal of Kahn’s amoral sister breathes life into a character given short shrift in the script.
While many set designers assigned to a show in the Off Broadway Theater end up resigning themselves to the minimalism required by the performance space, Gabe Smedresman ’06 (set designer) and Valerie Cervantes ’08 (lighting designer) deserve special credit for making their few simple backdrops far more evocative of setting than of set.
Is “Ice Cream” a good show?
Whatever weaknesses the script may possess is easily overcome by talent and ingenuity.
The ability of a skilled cast and crew to spin Churchill’s dross into gold is not just respectable; it is well worth seeing.