The Iceman Cometh is a play universal in its scope and personal in its detail. Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote the nearly-three-hour masterpiece at the peak of his career, in the late period that also gave us the theatre classics Long Day’s Journey into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten. As with those highly-regarded plays, O’Neill pulled from his own life when crafting Iceman, drawing from people he knew and situations he lived through. The more specific a writer makes something, the more relatable it often ends up being, and such is the case with The Iceman Cometh. O’Neill covers a lot of ground in the character-based epic; touching on war, politics, gender, race, philosophy, and death. His primary focus, however, is the “pipe dream”; his favored term for the self-delusion we all live with.
This is heavy material, yet O’Neill leavens it with warmth, humanity, and humor. Iceman mixes the harrowing honesty of the best Ingmar Bergman films with emotionally-stirring affection and boisterous comedy.
Additionally, the language O’Neill writes is rich and powerful. It dances from the actors’ lips like a kind of gutter poetry; elegant in its vulgarity, beautiful in its quotidian quality.
The entirety of The Iceman Cometh takes place on the ground floor of a dive bar and flophouse in which a ragtag gang of pimps, prostitutes, and drunken has-beens drink together and dream out loud. They’ve set up a community for themselves that may not be glamorous, but it works for them as a makeshift home. Into this contented setting comes the gang’s old friend Hickey, a salesman who visits the bar for an annual bender during which he cracks jokes and buy drinks for everyone. But this time, Hickey’s a changed man, and his arrival brings with it a troubling surprise.
Quotidian Theatre Company audiences and DC theatregoers will recognize many familiar names amongst the production’s talented acting ensemble. QTC favorites Steve LaRocque and Steve Beall play the cornerstone roles of the charismatic salesman Hickey and the former anarchist Larry Slade, respectively. The two are joined by up-and-coming actor Chris Stinson as Don Parritt, for whom Larry is a disinterested father figure.
Also featured in the powerhouse cast are Matt Boliek as the unstable former law student Willie Oban, Frank Britton as the bombastic gambler Joe Mott, Danny Brooks as the cheery crooked cop Pat McGloin, John Decker as the tragic war correspondent Jimmy Tomorrow, Tiffany Garfinkle as the nurturing den mother Cora, Genevieve James as the resilient prostitute Pearl, Carolyn Kashner as the funny and vivacious Margie, Ken Lechter as the earthy war vet Piet Wetjoen, Brian McDermott as the commanding and moral Moran, Brandon Mitchell as wily circus con man Ed Mosher, Louis Pangaro as the distinguished English officer Cecil Lewis, Manolo Santalla as the revolutionary mad prophet Hugo Kalmar, Ted Schneider as the grouchy father figure Harry Hope, Christian Sullivan as the sensitive but rough Chuck Morello, and Frank Vince as the charmingly dishonest bartender Rocky Pioggi.
Bill Largess, Artistic Director of Washington Stage Guild, serves as artistic adviser on The Iceman Cometh. DC actor and versatile theatre artist Christine Alexander stage manages with me making my directorial debut. Frequent Quotidian collaborators Lighting Designer Don Slater, Costume Designer Stephanie Mumford, Sound Designer Ed Moser, and Set Dresser Jack Sbarbori also join efforts on the production.
Iceman, while lauded by critics and the public alike, is rarely produced; it features an enormous cast of actors and its size and complexity take passion, dedication, and a lot of hard work to mount. Last year’s extremely successful Goodman Theatre production in Chicago was deemed too expensive to bring to Broadway, and the play has not been staged by a professional company in the DC area for many years. Quotidian Theatre Company’s presentation of The Iceman Cometh is a rare opportunity for local audiences to experience this monumental play in all its deep emotion, challenging candor, and breath-taking grandeur.
When asked about the play’s relevance, O’Neill said, “All I can say is that it is a play about pipe dreams. And the philosophy is that there is always one dream left, one final dream, no matter how low you have fallen, down there at the bottom of the bottle.
“I know,” said O’Neill, “because I saw it.”
Quotidian Theatre Company‘s production of The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill opens Friday, October 25th and plays through November 24th, at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. The venue is a short walk from the Bethesda Metro Station. There is free parking on Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets, purchase them online.