The Iceman Cometh
||This article's introduction section may not adequately summarize its contents. (July 2012)|
|The Iceman Cometh|
|Written by||Eugene O'Neill|
|Date premiered||9 October 1946|
|Place premiered||Martin Beck Theatre
New York City
|Subject||nostalgic, whiskey-soaked bar patrons are all forced into a reality check|
|Setting||1912, the Last Chance Saloon in New York City|
The Iceman Cometh is a play written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill in 1939. First published in 1946, the play premiered on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on October 9th, 1946, directed by Eddie Dowling, where it ran for 136 performances before closing on March 15th, 1947.
- Harry Hope – proprietor of a saloon and rooming house
- Ed Mosher – Hope's brother-in-law, former circus man
- Pat McGloin – former police lieutenant
- Willie Oban – a Harvard Law School alumnus
- Joe Mott – a former proprietor of a Negro gambling house
- General Piet Wetjoen – former leader of a Boer commando
- Captain Cecil Lewis – former Captain of British infantry
- James Cameron "Jimmy Tomorrow" – former Boer War correspondent
- Hugo Kalmar – former editor of anarchist periodicals
- Larry Slade – former Syndicalist-Anarchist
- Rocky Pioggi – night bartender
- Don Parritt – teenager, son of a former Anarchist
- Pearl – street walker
- Margie – street walker
- Cora – street walker
- Chuck Morello – day bartender
- Theodore Hickman "Hickey" – a hardware salesman
- Moran – police detective
- Lieb – police detective
Plot summary 
The Iceman Cometh is set in Harry Hope's decidedly downmarket Greenwich Village saloon and rooming house, in 1912. The patrons, who are all men except for three female prostitutes, are all dead-end alcoholics who spend every possible moment seeking oblivion in each other's company and trying to con or wheedle free drinks from Harry and the bartenders. They drift without purpose from day to day, coming fully to life only during the semi-annual visits of the salesman Theodore Hickman, known to them as Hickey. When Hickey finishes a tour of his business territory, which is apparently a wide expanse of the East Coast, he typically turns up at the saloon and starts the party. As the play opens, the regulars are expecting Hickey to turn up in time for Harry's birthday party. The first act introduces the various characters and shows them bickering amongst each other, showing just how drunk and delusional they are, all the while awaiting Hickey's arrival.
Joe Mott is the only black member of the group and is the former owner of a black casino. He insists he will soon re-open the casino.
Cecil "The Captain" Lewis is a former infantryman of the British Army who fought Piet "The General" Wetjoen, a Boer, during the Boer War. The two are now good friends and each insists they'll soon go back to their nations of origin.
Harry Hope is the bar's proprietor and, though he constantly says otherwise, has a tendency to give out free drinks. He has not left the bar since his wife Bess's death 20 years ago. He promises that he'll take a walk around the block on his birthday, the next day.
Pat McGloin is a former police lieutenant who was convicted on criminal charges and kicked off the force. He says he is hoping to be reinstated, but is waiting for the right moment.
Rocky Pioggi is the night bartender, but is paid little and makes his living mostly by allowing Pearl and Margie to stay at the bar in exchange for a substantial cut of all the money they make from prostitution. He despises being called a pimp.
Ed Mosher is Harry's brother-in-law, Bess's brother. He is a former circus box-office man and con-man who prides himself on his ability to give incorrect change. He kept too much of his illegitimate profits to himself and was fired, but says he will get his job back someday.
Hugo Kalmar is a former editor of anarchist periodicals who often quotes the Old Testament. He is drunk and passed out for a majority of the play and pesters the other patrons to buy him a drink when he is conscious.
James "Jimmy Tomorrow" Cameron is a former British newspaper correspondent. He is constantly daydreaming about getting his old job back again tomorrow, hence his nickname.
Chuck Morello is the day bartender and Cora's boyfriend. He says that he will marry her tomorrow.
Pearl and Margie are two prostitutes who work for Rocky.
Cora is a third prostitute and is Chuck's girlfriend.
Finally Hickey arrives and his behavior throws the other characters into turmoil. He insists, with as much charisma as ever, but now together with the zeal of a recent convert, that he sees life clearly now as never before, because he is sober. Hickey wants the characters to cast away their delusions and embrace the hopelessness of their fates. He takes on this task with a near-maniacal fervor. How he goes about his mission, how the other characters respond, and their efforts to find out what has wrought this change in Hickey take over four hours to resolve.
During and after Harry's birthday party most seem to have been somewhat affected by Hickey's ramblings. Larry pretends to be unaffected but, when Don reveals he was the informant responsible for the arrest of his own mother (Larry's former girlfriend), Larry rages at him; Willie decides McGloin's appeal will be his first case and Rocky admits he is a pimp.
Eventually, they all return and are jolted by a sudden revelation. Hickey, who had earlier told the other characters first that his wife had died and then that she was murdered, admits that he is the one who actually killed her. The police arrive, apparently called by Hickey himself, and Hickey justifies the murder in a dramatic monologue, saying that he did it out of love for her.
Hickey's father was a preacher in the backwoods of Indiana. Evidently he was both charismatic and persuasive, and it was inheriting these traits which led Hickey to become a salesman. An angry kid trapped in a small town, Hickey had no use for anyone but his sweetheart, Evelyn. Evelyn's family forbade her to associate with Hickey, but she ignored them. After Hickey left to become a salesman he promised he would marry Evelyn as soon as he was able. He became a successful salesman, then sent for her and the two were very happy until Hickey got tired of his wife always forgiving him for his whore-mongering and began to feel guilty. He next recounts how he murdered her, supposedly to free her from the pain of his constant philandering. But in retelling the murder itself he catches himself laughing and telling Evelyn, "well, you know what you can do with that pipe dream now, don't you?" In realizing he said this, Hickey breaks down completely. He realizes that he went truly insane and that people need their empty dreams to keep them going. The others agree and decide to testify for insanity during Hickey's trial despite Hickey begging them to let him get the death sentence.
The others all go back to their empty promises and pipe dreams except for Don and Larry. Don runs up to his room with the intention of jumping off the fire escape. Larry grimaces and listens at the window with his eyes closed. Don jumps and Larry's eyes are opened to the reality of his situation ("Be God, there's no hope! I'll never be a success...Life is too much for me!") and he is left wishing at last for his own death.
Themes and political content 
Hugo, Larry and Don are former members of an anarchist movement. Larry, now a bitter man who claims to be waiting for death, is approached by his ex-girlfriend's son, Don, at the beginning of the play, and Don remains at the bar. Don admits that he informed the police of the illegal activities of his mother and other anarchists. He gives several reasons for this but later admits that they are not the real ones. He first claims that he did it out of patriotism and then that he wanted the money, but finally admits he did it because he hated his mother, who was so obsessed with her own freedom that she became too self-centered and often either ignored or dominated him. The conversations between Don and Larry are among the most emotional in the play. Some of these conversations also often involve Hickey, whose actions somewhat parallel Don's.
Two other characters are veterans of the Second Boer War. One is British and one is Dutch. They alternately defend and insult each other, and there are many allusions to events in South Africa. Both wish to return to their home countries, but their families do not want them there.
Joe is an African-American character, who makes several speeches about racial differences.
The play is one of O'Neill's most ambitious works, and bears the impression of having been written from a perspective of profound despair. It expresses the playwright's disillusionment with the American ideals of success and aspiration, and suggests that much of human behavior is driven by bitterness, envy and revenge. Despite this play's emotional difficulty, which may have decreased its popularity, fans of the play believe that all the characters are so well explored, with measured doses of wry humor, that the best productions are compelling. The suspense of discovering the true meaning and intentions of Hickey's character usually maintains the audience's interest.
This massive undertaking is seldom staged. Even when O'Neill was alive, he delayed its performance on Broadway for seven years, fearing American audiences would reject it. O'Neill was at the height of his fame when he relented in 1946, and the production was a commercial success, though it received mixed reviews. The realistic, seedy language of some of its ne'er-do-well characters was a departure for O'Neill, who was known for writing plays with high-flown and melodramatic dialogue. This play tends to preserve O'Neill's typical passion and intensity while losing some of its aestheticism in the language, and risks a certain amount of redundancy as a result, so it is not surprising that some critics did not fully embrace it at first.
Another problem may have been James Barton's performance as Hickey. Barton was reportedly not up to the massive emotional and physical demands of such a titanic part, and sometimes forgot his lines or wore out his voice.
The young Marlon Brando was offered the part of Don Parritt in the original Broadway production, but famously turned it down. Brando later claimed to have read only a few pages of the script the producers gave him, and to have started an argument at the audition about the worth of the play and O'Neill's writing style. The audition ended with Brando rejecting the part, apparently in order to seem consistent rather than admit to laziness.
The original production was staged at the Martin Beck Theatre and opened on October 9, 1946 and closed on March 15, 1947, after 136 performances. It was directed by Eddie Dowling with production and lighting design by Robert Edmond Jones. The cast starred James Barton (Theodore "Hickey" Hickman), Jeanne Cagney (Margie), Leo Chalzel (Hugo Kalmar), Russell Collins (James "Jimmy Tomorrow" Cameron), Paul Crabtree (Don Parritt), Dudley Digges (Harry Hope), Ruth Gilbert (Pearl), Charles Hart (Lieb), Nicholas Joy (Cecil "The Captain" Lewis), Marcella Markham (Cora), Joe Marr (Chuck Morello), John Marriott (Joe Mott), E. G. Marshall (Willie Oban), Al McGranary (Pat McGloin), Tom Pedi (Rocky Pioggi), Carl Benton Reid (Larry Slade), Morton L. Stevens (Ed Mosher), Frank Tweddell (Piet "The General" Wetjoen), and Michael Wyler (Moran).
The play was mounted again Off-Broadway in 1956, after O'Neill's death. This production, starring Jason Robards as Hickey and directed by José Quintero, was massively acclaimed, and the play was accepted as a true masterpiece. Robards won multiple awards for his performance, and went on to distinguish himself throughout his life as the leading interpreter of O'Neill's great male roles. He was most widely known for his film roles but repeatedly devoted his most serious energies to theatrical roles, and especially to O'Neill.
Robards' energetic performance was repeated for a 1960 television production of Play of the Week for CBS. Director John Frankenheimer cast a more malevolent, coarse Lee Marvin in his 1973 film version that had a 239-minute running time. One actor appeared in both versions: Tom Pedi, as Rocky the bartender. Some reviews at the time were unfavorable to Marvin, as he was generally associated with tough guy roles. The 1973 film was also notable for being Fredric March's last screen role.
The show was revived on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and ran from September 29, 1985 to December 1, 1985.
The show was revived again on Broadway, this time at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and ran from April 8, 1999 to July 17, 1999.
The 2012 revival at Chicago's Goodman Theatre starred Nathan Lane in the lead role of Hickey. Brian Dennehy was cast as Larry Slade, and the production was directed by Robert Falls. It started its run at the Goodman Theatre in April 2012, slated for a six-week stand.
Robards starred in a 1960 'live' television version of the play, and returned to it in a 1985 Broadway production again directed by Quintero and featuring a cast that included Barnard Hughes as Harry Hope and Donald Moffat as Larry Slade.
Other noteworthy actors to play the role of Hickey include Lee Marvin, in a 1973 film adaptation directed by John Frankenheimer; James Earl Jones, in a 1973 revival at the Circle in the Square Theatre that was edited for length and criticized for the weakness of its supporting cast; and Kevin Spacey, who was lauded for his 1998–1999 stage rendition of the part in London's West End and then on Broadway. The play is now widely considered to have the dimensions of a true tragedy, whereas many of O'Neill's earlier works would be more accurately characterized as melodrama.
The 1973 film version featured many notable actors besides Lee Marvin, including Fredric March as Harry, Robert Ryan as Larry, Jeff Bridges as Don, George Voskovec as General Wetjoen and Moses Gunn as Joe.
Awards and nominations 
- 1956 Vernon Rice Award for Best Production (Drama Desk Awards)
- 1999 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Play
- 1999 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
- Napierkowski, Marie Rose (editor) (1998). "The Iceman Cometh: Introduction". Drama for Students. vol. 5. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
Further reading 
- O'Neill, Eugene (1988). O'Neill (First edition ed.). New York: Library of America. OCLC 57377246.
- O'Neill, Eugene (1994). The Iceman Cometh. London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 978-1-85459-143-2.
See also 
- Hopkins, V. C. (1949) "The Iceman Seen through The Lower Depths", College English 11: 81–87
- Muchnic,H. (1948) "Circe's Swine: Plays by Gorky and O'Neill", Comparative Literature 3: 119–128
- "Nathan Lane Take on 'The Iceman Cometh' in Chicago". Broadway.me. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
- The Iceman Cometh at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Iceman Cometh at the Internet off-Broadway Database
- The Iceman Cometh (1960 film) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Iceman Cometh (1973 film) at the Internet Movie Database