The Iceman Cometh

Definition

Theater

  • A naturalistic tragedy by Eugene O'Neill.Though written in 1939 the play remained unperformed until a New Yorkproduction in 1946. The play, which has a cast of 19 and runs foraround five hours, is one of O'Neill's most ponderous works.

    Set in 1912 in Harry Hope's saloon bar, the play presentsa group of down-at-heel alcoholics who indulge in nihilistic conversationabout the failure of their dreams. The title alludes to a ribald storyabout a husband who comes home to find his wife in bed with the manwho delivers the ice. On another level, the Iceman represents Death,who has come among the bar patrons without their suspecting it.

    A 1956 off-Broadway production of the play made a star ofthe actor Jason Robards in the role of Hickey, a salesman with a fearfulsecret. However, when Robards attempted to recreate the role on Broadway nearly 30 years later the production proved a failure. During a 1976 productionof the play the actor Ian Holm developed such awful stage fright thathe did not return to theatrical work for 16 years.

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