Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh, is one of the more challenging works in the American dramatic canon. Its down-on-their-luck characters, mostly men, are steeped in life’s difficulties – steeped figuratively and literally, as alcohol is refuge and scourge of many of those found in the saloon where the play takes place in the New York City of 1912. The work challenges playgoers not only with its dark themes onstage, but with its real-time length: The Iceman Cometh has four acts, and often clocks in at around five hours running time.
At least Wagner operas, which can be just as long, have music.
Chicago’s Goodman Theatre has undertaken a new production of O’Neill’s 1939 play, directed by Robert Falls, who is a respected hand with O’Neill’s work. The production also has a couple of big stars in major roles. Brian Dennehy, who has successfully undertaken the lead role of Theodore "Hickman" Hickey in another Falls-directed Iceman, here plays one-time anarchist Larry Slade. And Nathan Lane, best-known for comic turns in musicals, is Hickey.
Sure, it’s O’Neill, but even with marquee-name actors, should theater patrons be interested in this long night at the theater and a play that won’t exactly send them dancing and singing into the streets at the final curtain? New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood offers his assessment.