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The Iceman Cometh (Jonathan Cape Paperback) [Paperback]

Eugene O'Neill
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 1966 Jonathan Cape Paperback
The Place: Harry Hope's bar, a cheap gin-mill of the five-cent whiskey, last-resort variety situated downtown on the West Side of New York. The Time: Salesman Hickey's birthday celebration, two days during the summer of 1912 -- a time when all tomorrows are forced abruptly to become today; when the delineation between hopes, dreams, and pipe dreams disintegrates; when "self-knowledge" destroys self-respect, compassion -- and life. One of the last of Eugene O'Neill's plays, The Iceman Cometh stands today with Long Day's Journey into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten as the supreme expression of his dramatic genius. "From the Trade Paperback edition."


Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; New impression edition (1 Jan 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224610724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224610728
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.6 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 339,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful character driven play. 13 Oct 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I haven't seen any of the recent productions of this play, in fact I've never seen this play at all, so I was quite daunted when I started reading. I shouldn't have worried. This is a wonderful character driven story, filled with marvellous, believable people, who live out a couple of days in their lives for us to view. At the beginning a group of no-hopers are found in the back room of a bar, sleeping off their hang-overs and waiting for the arrival of Hickey, their travelling salesman buddy. When Hickey does turn up, he is not himself and for the rest of the play, the reasons behind this change are gradually revealed to us and the other characters, before the explosive series of monologues from Hickey which exposes his dark secret. Read this play. You won't regret it. All I want now is to see a production, where the actors fully appreciate O'Neill's characterisations. Shame I missed the Spacey production while it was in London! Jay
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hickie How could you! 5 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Eugene is Eugene.

Eugene delves into the pipe dreams of drunk. I think if you read this then you'll end up relating to maybe a few of the characters.

Good read and i believe Robert Falls did a good job in directing this play in Chicago.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent naturalist drama 24 Feb 2003
Format:Paperback
Eugene O'Neill wanted to exert so much control over his plays and the way they could be performed that he included near exhaustive set descriptions (a general feature of naturalist drama) and ridiculously detailed actor directions (such as describing a character as 'looking inward at himself with self-loathing', or words to that effect). Consequently, it is almost as rewarding to read this play as it is to see it performed. Although it is long and repetitive, where it wins (as a naturalist play should) is in its acute depiction of psychologically real characters, who use non-standard-English dialogue, which adds to their expressiveness. O'Neill's skill for writing is evident throughout, and although I have been pushing it as a naturalist drama, it also can be read as including elements of allegory, which help it transcend any accusations of 'boringness' or 'miserableness' often levelled at such texts.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  39 reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Watching a Train Wreck 12 Sep 2004
By Barry C. Chow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
...you know that your fascination is morbid, but you can't tear your eyes away from the awfulness of it: the sheer ghoulish drama unfolding before you like some sick joke of the gods.

I remember the first time I watched this play. I believe it was Lee Marvin's portrayal of Hickey on a presentation of American Playhouse. I was held from first to last with that jaw-gaping awe that only the best dramatic works can inspire.

This is a rare work of the highest measure. It combines its existential angst with portrayals so uncluttered that we are spared the usual contortions of the literati. To be sure, there is symbolism and allusion enough: the entire play takes place in a bar called "Hope"; the setting is a meat packing district, literally the most dead end of dead ends; Hickey sells for a living, a profession that trades on hopes and fears. But these are just passing nods to the writer's craft. O'Neill includes them to keep the acolytes happy. The story depends on neither its setting nor its devices. It would work as well set in some professional clubs I know.

This play is concerned with the necessity of delusions. The various characters assembled around the bar waiting for Hickey's appearance are different flavours of delusion. It's like Dante's Inferno, with each character defining a different circle of hell. And when Hickey shows up, his effect is not much short of Satan's.

No one could write a play like this today. We have become a society so steeped in cool cynicism that we have lost our authenticity. Today, a theme like O'Neill's could only be invoked with a veiled smirk. Think of all the recent movies that have dealt with this thesis: they are either clichéd, cruel or contemptuous. Consider, for example, "American Beauty". Delusion is a topic we approach with patronizing disdain for fear of seeming earnest.

What is the line between delusion and hope? Is hope itself delusional? Perhaps all humans are fundamentally flawed and can only avoid despair by wrapping ourselves in a cloak of unreality and fantasy. Hope is a crutch; avoidance is therapy; unflinching reality leads only to death or to madness. Heavy stuff.

It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with O'Neill's thesis because this play wasn't written to advance a specific point of view; it was written to exorcise demons. All of O'Neill's great plays were, to varying degrees, products of his suffering. This one came closest to connecting his personal pain with universal aspects of the human condition. This theme scares us because we are all so very vulnerable to self-delusion, and O'Neill's unsparing scrutiny exposes our own fear and pain so candidly that we are forced into self-reflection and humility. This empathy is at the heart of all the great tragedies: we could be as foolish as Lear, as jealous as Othello, as ambitious as Faust, or as delusional as Hickey. Don't set yourself higher than these figures: there but for the grace of God go I.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Destroy The Dream And You Destroy The Man 10 Jun 2000
By Loren D. Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
During one of the lowest periods of his adult life, from 1911 through about 1915, Eugene O'Neill lived, off and on, in three New York flophouses. These were Jimmy the Priest's, the Hell Hole, and the Garden Hotel. An amalgam of these three served as the model for Harry Hope's in THE ICEMAN COMETH. With the exception of Hickey, every character in the play was based on a friend or acquaintance from this period of his life.
The play, written in the 1940's, is set in 1912. All, or almost all, of the down and out residents at Harry Hope's had once lived fairly normal lives with jobs, families, and plans for the future.
Each man had a pipe dream, fulfillment of which, he thought, would give him a better life. Each man also had a reason why he could never fulfill his pipe dream.
The high point of their lives would come each year on the eve of Harry Hope's birthday when a salesman named Hickey would arrive to begin his periodic binge, For the duration of his stay, the drinks would flow, on Hickey, of course, and an atmosphere of celebration would fill Harry Hope's
His visit in the year of the play was different. A new Hickey showed up. This version of Hickey was a messianic salesman who had seen the light and was determined to sell his friends on the necessity of seeing the same light. He told them that he no longer needed the relief that booze had brought him in the past and that he was freed of his problem with pipe dreams.
His message was that they could do the same. One by one, he dismantled their pipe dreams and pressured them into trying to make their pipe dreams real. He succeeded in sowing seeds of misery in each of them, and each soon discovered that his pipe dream was all he had. Without his pipe dream he had nothing to live for.
They detected that Hickey might not really be as happy as he had let on and they challenged him to reveal how he had rid himself of his problem with pipe dreams so successfully. Hickey, in an almost manic mood, then described a life of drunkenness, dishonesty, and infidelity, including contracting venereal disease and transmitting it to his wife. She had always forgiven him for his infidelities and abuses because she had a pipe dream that he would reform.
In his guilt, knowing that he would never reform, he began to hate her pipe dream and her along with it. Because of his fear that she would eventually be unable to forgive him further, he destroyed her pipe dream by murdering her in her sleep.
While he was relating this, two detectives who had been searching for him had arrived and heard this confession. When he realized that they had heard, he immediately claimed that what he had just said was the result of insanity.
Everyone seized on the word insanity and, convinced themselves that Hickey was insane, rationalized going back to the pipe dreams that he had destroyed, and thus back to their harmonious existence. Each character then narrated a face-saving version of what had happened when he had attempted to fulfil his pipe dream and failed.
O'Neill has made a powerful case that each man must have his pipe dreams, and that if you destroy his pipe dreams you destroy him.
Although some plays seem to be meant to be seen but are not particularly readable, THE ICEMAN COMETH is one that succeeds on both levels. Read it. See it. It's powerful either way.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ringing approval 21 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
O'Neill's finest drama, The Iceman Cometh, is a compelling tale of desolation. The play centers around its characters hope for a different and more fulfilling life. Driven to hide from society and anathetize their problems with alchohol and pipe dreams, deluding themselves into thinking their lives have a psuedo-promise for a vague future imporvement; the characters converge in Harry Hope's squalid bar in New York City's meat-packing district. There, they live a past-obsessed life based incongrously on a fantasy future. When Hickey, an old friend who comes to the bar on periodic binges, comes and forces the others to confront their pipe dreams, we learn the value of sustaining illusions to those whose lives are so desolate that they have nothing else to live for. The Iceman Cometh is a classic of the American theater and I wholeheartedly reccomend it to everyone.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unfulfilled Pipe Dreams 19 July 2007
By Sean K - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
[Cue music]
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name . . .
[Music fades]

O'Neil's play, "The Iceman Cometh" is a 1912 version of "Cheers", that is if Sam was a bitter old agoraphobic, Norm and Cliff were disgraced military officers, Carla and Rebecca were prostitutes, Woody was a pimp, Frasier was a disenchanted former anarchist, and the bar was a dark, destitute hellhole in the slums of Manhattan where drunks go to wallow in their own self-pity. Ok, perhaps it's the antithesis of "Cheers". However, O'Neil performs a brilliant job in delivering a potent tale of a cast of characters and their broken dreams and hopes.

Throughout the play, O'Neil explores the idea of "pipe dreams" and their role in providing hope to an otherwise miserable life. Although these pipe dreams will never be fulfilled and the dreamers know it, it at least provides some rationale for their existence. The drunks are most happy when deluding themselves into believing their pipe dreams. Only when they are forced to confront these and break their own dreams are they at their most miserable and depressed. Indeed, the one who forces the patrons of the bar to confront their pipe dreams, Hickey, is the most hated and reviled, for he forces them to strip bare their lives and realize their own cesspool of existence.

The theme of death pervades throughout the play. Larry, the grand philosopher, is the one who preaches the most about death. Yet, he still hangs on to life, albeit by drowning his sorrows in cheap whiskey. When Hickey comes, he attempts to deliver the patrons from their miserable lives to achieve a fleeting resurrection, yet his efforts are futile, as the patrons soon return to their zombie-like drunken stupor. Hickey, who himself has a dark secret, is viewed as the Grim Reaper. The bar, itself, is referred to as a morgue and mausoleum, and for good measure, as the drunks there are dead inside and merely waiting to die.
"The Iceman Cometh" is a depressing look at the wasted lives of alcoholics and their miserable pipe dreams. And although it is set nearly a century ago, the same issues prevail today. This is a great little play to read and dissect.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Curing "a few harmless pipe dreams" with a convert's missionary zeal 13 Feb 2006
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although O'Neill finished "The Iceman Cometh" in 1940, he postponed production until after the war, when it enjoyed a run of 136 performances in 1946 after receiving mixed reviews. Three years after O'Neill's death, Jason Robards starred in a revival, resuscitating the play and launching his own career as O'Neill's master interpreter. In the half century since, it has gained somewhat in stature, and some drama critics and theatergoers consider it his best work.

There's not much of a plot and there is little in the way of action. A throng of professional drunks and dreamers crowd the seedy bar in a flophouse that is also home to many of the patrons. The more notable characters are Larry Slade, the cynical priest-figure who subjects the "pipe dreams" of the bar's denizens to a weary scrutiny; Rocky Pioggi, a bartender and a tough who doubles as a pimp to a pair of floozies; Don Parritt, a newcomer who (we soon learn) has ratted out his own mother, an anarchist who used to be Slade's lover; and Harry Hope, the club's ornery proprietor, who is preparing to celebrate his birthday.

They, and nearly a dozen other patrons, await the arrival of Hickey, a traveling salesman who occasionally goes on a bender, but always appears before Hope's birthday to get the festivities rolling and fuel the party with the bounty of his recent earnings. This year, Hickey is late--and the club's denizens will eventually find out why. And, unlike his appearance in previous years, Hickey's presence has the effect of choking the life out of the party. An apparently reformed man, he's on a mission, a reformed zealot who intends to rescue his fellow debauchers from their own escapist fantasies: For years, the residents have been "keep[ing] up the appearance of life with a few harmless pipe dreams about their yesterdays and tomorrows." Yet there's no chance of breaking the inertia as long as they are rooted to their barstools, and Hickey's cure is to hector each of them until they put up or shut up. (O'Neill featured similar themes and the same saloon setting, focusing on one of the play's minor characters and containing a similar ending, in "Tomorrow," his only published short story, which appeared three decades earlier, in 1917.)

O'Neill masterfully fleshes out the lead characters, avoiding the melodramatic flourishes that pepper his earlier work and employing a fine ear for barroom dialect and drivel. The play's weakness (and on this, others certainly disagree with me) is with the Greek chorus of New York City stereotypes of assorted immigrants and lowlifes: the Irish police lieutenant, the French anarchist editor, the British infantry captain, the streetwalkers, and so on--all of whom have fallen to the bottom of the barrel through the neck of a bottle. On the one hand, the cumulative effect of these portraits conveys the warm and oddly comforting camaraderie that survives the depressing hopelessness of these dilapidated lives and their delusional hopes. On the other hand (in both performance and while reading), it's hard to tell these scoundrels apart, they rarely rise above type, and none of them serve as much more than subjects for Hickey's ostensibly altruistic mission and of Slade's self-centered cynicism.

Because of its demands on the actors, this play (four hours long) can be insufferable in amateur hands, and you'll want to read it simply to get an inkling of what you should have seen. Even if you're fortunate enough to enjoy a well-done production, it's worth reading the original text because O'Neill's detailed stage directions and character descriptions add much more than can be shown on a stage. Although O'Neill's fans may disagree on whether "The Iceman Cometh" is his best, it's certainly among his most powerful.
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