The Iceman Cometh

By Eugene O’NeillThe iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre

Directed by Robert Falls

At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago

“Honey, has the iceman come yet? “No, but he’s breathin’ real hard!” -famous vaudeville joke

Brilliant, stunning production of one of the finest American plays, The Iceman Cometh, is  a major triumph for the Goodman Theatre

In one of most engaging, often funny, poignantly powerful dramas – The Iceman Cometh – proves that Eugene O ‘Neill was the finest American playwright. His 1939, drink -infested drama that found optimism and pessimism coexisting in a state of  “hopeless hope,” is set in 1912 in  Harry Hope’s rooming house bar – a  place know as “the No Chance Saloon,” “the End of the Line Cafe ” and “the Bottom of the Sea Rathskeller!” Using an aptly dreary set (designed by Kevin Depinet) to show several views of the place, we find a group of drunken misfits thirsting for the arrival of  Hickey (Nathan Lane) – the charismatic traveling salesman whose raucous presence seems to ensure a good time by all as his drinks and cash flow freely.

The iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre

Among the group of misfits who are hiding in a bottle referencing their personal pipe dreams are:  Joe Mott (John Douglas Thompson), a black man who once ran a casino; Ed Mosher (Larry Neuman, Jr.) a circus barker and Harry Hope’s brother-in-law; Harry Hope (Stephen Quimette) , the proprietor who has not stepped outside his establishment in 20 years. There is Chuck Morello (Marc Grapey), the day bartender who pipe dreams about marrying his girlfriend Cora (Kate  Arrington), herself a whore,  and moving to a farm in New Jersey. Willie Oban (John Hoogenakker) is the failed Harvard educated lawyer; while Piet Wetjoen (John Judd) is the disgraced Boer Comando who spares with British Captain Cecil Lewis (John Reeger) over the Boer War in South Africa. Jimmy Tomorrow (James harms) is the journalist who daily prepares  to ask for his job back. Hugo Kalmar (Lee Wilkof) is the anarchist publisher who awakes from a stooped to have a drink while shouting Movement slogans. Larry Slade (Brian Dennehy) is the cowardly ex-socialist movement activist anxiously awaiting his own death. He is joined by the youthful Don Parritt (Patrick Andrews) who seeks Larry’s friendship and his forgiveness. Rocky Pioggi (Salvatore Inzerillo) is the night bartender and pimp to Pearl (Tara Sissom) and Margie (Lee Stark).

The iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre - nathan lane

All the above characters realize that there hopes are only pipe dreams as fear, complacency and inertia (laziness?) prevents them from taking action. They hide at the bottom of a whiskey bottle as they await the yearly visit from Hickey  to celebrate Harry’s birthday. They can almost taste Hickey’s drinks.

The iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre

However, when Hickey arrives, his demeanor is subdued and his wise-cracking frivolity is devoid of jokes about his wife Evelyn’s trysts. Hickey is on the wagon and he is messianic in attempts to get each of his fellow pipe dreamers to actually do the things they always dream about.  But he secretly knows that they will fail and return to Harry’s. He believes that casting off their pipe dreams is the only path toward happiness for them. But throwing away one’s illusions is a daunting task  especially for the alcohol dependent ones.

The iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre


As the play moves forth, we gradually realize that Hickey’s self-loathing and guilt for hurting his lovingly loyal and ultimately forgiving wife leads him to the ultimate act to rid her of further pain.

This totally engrossing drama looks at the destructiveness of alcohol;  political topics, particularly anarchism and socialism, as well as the inertia of disillusionment and despair. O’ Neill’s view of human behavior is driven by bitterness, envy and revenge that surly is demonstrated by the cynicism of the residents of Harry Hope’s establishment including the barkeeps.  The depth of humanity is vividly depicted through the truthful performances. Director Bob Falls’ well-paced production moves nicely yet it gave each character space to shine.  The supporting cast of mostly “A” list  Chicago actors each had their moments. John Hoggenacker, Larry Neuman, Jr. and James Harms were particularly effective. Brian Dennehy’s subdued Larry erupts periodically as he is hounded by both Hickey and Don.

But the play rests on the magnificent, nuanced and deeply emotional turns from Nathan Lane’ as Hickey. Lane’s long monologue confessional in the final act is masterfully performed. How Lane maintains the depth of guilt and self-loathing necessary for us to grasp and somewhat empathize with Hickey is a joy to witness. Nathan Lane gives the finest dramatic performance of his career as Hickey.

The Iceman Cometh is the theatrical event of 2012! The 4 hour, 45 minute production (with 3 intermissions) never sags and  never is anything but engaging.  Our visit to Harry Hope’s dive is deliciously populated  with a colorful assortment of  characters that out interest never wanes. Great writing, quirky characters, profound human traits all combine to make for grand theatre. The  Iceman Cometh is a “must see’  show for all serious theatre patrons.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

‘Talk Theatre in Chicago  podcast

Date Reviewed: May 3, 2012

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout The Iceman Cometh page at

At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago,, tickets $ 61 – $133, call 312-443-3800, Tuesday thru Saturdays at 7 pm, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sunday matinees at 1:30, running time is 4 hours, 45 minutes with 3 intermissions, through June 17, 2012.

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