Nathan Lane Cries During Monte Cristo Honor, Thanks 'Iceman Cometh': "It Doesn't Get Any Better"

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Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick

After tributes from Matthew Broderick and Brian Dennehy, Lane said of the Eugene O'Neill Center award, "It's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, it's just that, as Hillary Clinton might say, 'I'm not quite done yet!'"

Nathan Lane wasn't completely satisfied when he was honored with the Eugene O'Neill Center's Monte Cristo Award on Monday night.

"It's a little disconcerting — it's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, it's just that, as Hillary Clinton might say, 'I'm not quite done yet,'" he told the laughing audience inside New York City's Edison Ballroom of receiving the career-spanning honor. Yet his gratitude joyously overflowed, complete with jokes that he now has the notoriously heavy statue of "Eugene O'Neill contemplating where the closest liquor store is."

Lane took the mic after tributes from Susan StromanJenni Barber, Jason Simon, Tim Shew, Bobby Creighton, Patrick Page, Carson Elrod and puppeteer Tyler Bunch, plus a video greeting from Jesse Tyler Ferguson: "Since you already have so many awards, I thought you'd just like a tour of my closet instead," the Modern Family thespian told the camera before comically showing his home.

Onstage, oft-collaborator Matthew Broderick recapped their friendship, from their first meeting during The Producers to how Lane now lends his East Hampton driveway as a parking spot when Broderick and his family go to the movies. "Nathan's laser-like precision and his atomic-clock timing are exhilarating, and you know that this is a precious rare opportunity to mix it up with a great one," he said of repeatedly working with his It's Only a Play co-star. "I can't wait to see what he does in the years to come; I look forward to watching him and even more, taking the field right next to him."

Brian Dennehy presented the annual award to Lane, tracing his career roots and elaborating on working with him in Robert Falls' staging of The Iceman Cometh, which wrapped its critically acclaimed limited engagement at Brooklyn's BAM Harvey Theater in March. "During Nathan's big speech, the famous fourth-act 20-minute speech, there was absolute silence in the house of 800 people — I mean absolute silence," Dennehy said of the O'Neill-penned production. The play runs nearly five hours with three intermissions and has Lane delivering a crime-confessing monologue in which THR's critic Frank Scheck said he "displays a pathos and self-delusion that will long linger in your memory."

"Nathan had to go in this dark, demented, cruel place every night and take us all with him, and god damnit, he did, every night," recalled Dennehy. "I've never experienced a quiet like that, ever. Friday nights and Sunday afternoon too. I will always be grateful to have been a part of it, to be a witness to one of the greatest theatrical experiences and thrilling performances I've ever been a part of."

Humbled and overwhelmed to the point of tears, Lane noted that he'd be happy if the lifetime achievement award were just for his Iceman Cometh role — a passion project of his, three years in the making for him, and "the most difficult play ever written. ... It has changed my life forever. I am not the same actor as when I started," he said of his dramatic turn as the outgoing traveling salesman, Hickey. "When you hear the stunning silence of a thousand people, listening, feeling, thinking ... "

He then trailed off, pausing to shed a few audible sobs. "It doesn't get any better — it is thrilling and transformative and what you hope and pray for as an actor," Lane continued of the part. "It was the high point of my acting career, for which I'll be forever grateful."

"But believe me, I can find the dark cloud in every silver line, and it's this: the bastard has spoiled me for any other writer!" he concluded of O'Neill. "I will do my best to try to live up to his standards."

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