Three years after O'Neill's death, Jason Robards starred in a Broadway revival that brought new critical attention to ONeills darkest and most nihilistic play. In the half century since, The Iceman Cometh has gained enormously in stature, and many critics now recognize it as one of the greatest plays in American drama.
"O'Neill uses the phrase the big sleep throughout his play as a synonym for death," advises Ray Chandler, "apparently in the belief that it's an accepted underworld expression.
If it's only for a few days more, or a few hours even, have mercy, Almighty God, and let me still clutch greedily to my yellow heart this sweet treasure, this jewel beyond price, the dirty, stinking bit of withered old flesh which is my beautiful little life!...You think you'll make me admit that to myself? If one sees or reads this play just take in mind that it is cynicism that generates all the tragedy here and any optimism or hope WILL NOT BE TOLERATED (unless your "Yellow" like Larry).
"Long Day's Journey into Night" is O'Neill's best play but "The Iceman Cometh" is his greatest achievement. The king of the losers is Harry Hope. They are all awaiting the arrival of Hickey, a traveling businessmen who has made a habit of stopping in at the bar for a party in which he buys drinks and tells tales and jokes. He doesn't want to lament life's passing anymore.
To read or watch an ONeill play is properly a life altering experience. Very often, as with the present work, it ought to leave ones life in shambles, the veritable house of cards you always knew it was but hoped no one else would notice. One is sucked in to what you feel is a distant scene, far away from ones own life and then characters begin to appear which gnaw at your conscience: some of them look familiar and it makes you squirm.
Well, "enjoy" is probably the wrong word to use, even as I am a now twice-read, twice-seen, fan of this Eugene O'Neill play. As with that two part epic, Eugene O'Neill has provided us with a brilliant exploration of angst and regret, American style.
Reading out loud and in character is how plays are meant to be read. In this case many of the characters had something they should feel guilty for that caused them to be alcoholics, but they claim there is some other reason that they are in this position. The logic that Hickey uses for why he kills his wife is actually very logical.
I think because I had a lot of anger myself I liked the idea that you could be angry and still "get away with it." Of course in the end Hickey falls apart but he's so much more heroic and tragic than a total failure like Willy Loman. Another thing I really loved about this play was how young Parrit hates his mother and her radical friends so much. There was so much I hated about my professors at Columbia and Parrit really expresses this eloquently when he talks about "tramps and bums and free women" who think they are so much better than anyone else.