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This Day In Writing History
On September 2nd, 1946, The Iceman Cometh, the famous play by legendary American playwright Eugene O'Neill, opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theater. Directed by Eddie Dowling, the play ran for 136 performances before it closed. It would be revived in 1999 and be nominated for a Tony Award for Best Revival.
The Iceman Cometh, considered to be O'Neill's finest work, contained all the distinctive elements of an O'Neill play: dingy, run-down sets, experimental use of light and sound, and the dialogue of the common man, peppered with slang. Often compared to Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, The Iceman Cometh tells the story of a tavern full of skid row bums who cling to illusion in order to cope with the reality of their despair.
The year is 1912, the place is a grubby saloon and rooming house in Greenwich Village, and the people are the patrons of the establishment. All of them are men, except for three women who are prostitutes. And all of them are skid row alcoholics who seek solace in each other's company - when they're not trying to mooch free drinks from the bartenders. They await the arrival of their friend Theodore "Hickey" Hickman, a traveling salesman who always stops by the bar to buy drinks for everyone after returning from a tour of his sales route. He regales the bums with stories and jokes.
This time, the bums are also expecting Hickey to plan a surprise birthday party for Harry Hope, owner of the bar and main bartender. (Harry Hope - isn't that a great name for a bartender?) Also in the first act, we meet Don Parrit and Larry Slade. Don's mother is involved with an anarchist group, and she used to date Larry. Joe Mott is the only black member of the group. He used to own a black casino, which he plans to re-open. Cecil "The Captain" Lewis is a former British Army infantryman who fought against Piet "The General" Wetjoen during the Boer War, but now the two men are good friends who both insult and defend each other. They insist that they'll go back to their countries soon.
Willie Oban is a graduate of Harvard who claims that he'll soon have a job at the D.A.'s office. Pat McGloin is an ex-cop and convicted criminal who hopes to appeal his case when the time is right. Rocky Pioggi, the night bartender, hates being called a pimp, even though he makes most of his living from the earnings of hookers Pearl and Margie, in exchange for letting them live at the bar. Hugo Kalmar is an ex-anarchist who often quotes from the Old Testament - when he's not passed out drunk, which is most of the time. James Cameron is an ex-British newspaper correspondent who always says that he'll get a job tomorrow, hence his nickname, "Jimmy Tomorrow."
Chuck Morello is the day bartender and the boyfriend of hooker Cora. He keeps telling her that he'll marry her tomorrow. Meanwhile, Harry Hope hasn't left the bar since his wife died twenty years ago. He says that he'll go for a walk on his birthday. Harry's brother-in-law, Ed Mosher, is a former circus box office ticket seller and con man with an uncanny talent for short-changing people.
All of these characters cling to their illusions, especially Hickey, who insists that in his new found sobriety, he finally sees life clearly. He chides his former drinking buddies for clinging to their "pipe dreams," but Hickey's own illusions lead to tragedy. A compulsive adulterer, Hickey has grown tired of his wife always forgiving him for cheating on her. So, because he really loves her, he decides to put her out of her misery.
Don Parrit is driven to suicide by guilt after he turns in his mother for her anarchist activities. Though he tries to convince himself otherwise, Don finally admits that he turned in his mother because he hated her. When he was a boy, she cared more about her anarchist group than him, and either ignored him or was domineering. Informing on her was an act of revenge for his unhappy childhood.
Eugene O'Neill's brilliant, gut wrenching, heartbreaking play would be the last one produced on Broadway before his death. It was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1973, directed by John Frankenheimer and featuring a stellar cast including Lee Marvin, Fredric March, Robert Ryan, Jeff Bridges, Bradford Dillman, Sorrell Booke, and Moses Gunn.
Quote Of The Day
"To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything. It's irrelevant and immaterial, as the lawyers say. The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober." - Eugene O'Neill
Today's video features a clip from a documentary on Eugene O'Neill. This clip deals with The Iceman Cometh and features actor Al Pacino reading Hickey's famous speech. Enjoy!