A Mr. Mark Squirek -- a non-facebook subscriber but an individual with an evidently keen interest in theater -- sent me this response to a recently posted review of Eugene O'Neill's THE ICEMAN COMETH, now at the Fells Point Corner Theater. To post responses to BWW reviews requires facebook membership (it's a way to eliminate anonymous, hateful postings), but not everyone has joined the millions taking the facebook plunge. I was impressed enough with the detail and depth of this letter to include it as a READER FEEDBACK column. I will say that I am a member of the ICEMAN cast, so I believe it only right to note that here. In any event, here is Mr. Squirek's comments.
I encourage all to let us know what you think:
O’Neil’s work reflects something timeless about America. In Iceman it’s the universal experience of living failed dreams and the sad resignation that the hard job of living can bring. It’s the idea that life can kick your ass and leave you alone and wishing for death. His script contains the lost and the forgotten, the near dead and the dying, the political and the apolitical, the drifters and the thieves.
It’s a broad canvas to cover and he travels it well by showing us a single night in the lives of the characters while their lifetime of disillusionment and shattered dreams gradually unfold as they each speak. It is an ugly canvas as well.
Just because times are ugly in America right now is no reason to not present this play. If anything the play is a call to arms. The current attempts to suppress and monitor the internet are no different than one hundred years ago when the mail of a suspected anarchist was opened on suspicion alone. The current refusal to deal with the economic inequalities that have built up over the last three decades is as real as the ugly slums of New York were a hundred years ago.
Iceman is brutal reminder that the not much changes in America. What was true one hundred years ago is just as true today. Only today we have Cheetos and lite beer.
Given the depth of his writing, the length of the play and the incredible amount of work that it takes to simply stage it, Iceman is seldom produced. Another unacknowledged reason that Iceman is so seldom done is that few audiences can stand the challenge that O’Neil lays before them. You have to sit there and be willing to allow yourself to fall into the world he has created.
Iceman is hardly esoteric. In fact it could be easily argued that it is the complete opposite. The play is completely real and meant for the masses. It is a very real portrayal of damaged people and lost souls who for a few brief moments every day manage to find another reason to wake up. Just because they are alive in the early part of the twentieth century doesn’t make their disconnection from society any less painful to see.
Drive by the line homeless people waiting for a soup kitchen to open right across from the main branch of the Baltimore Public Library. Like these unfortunate souls, the denizens of O’Neil’s twilight universe are one step away from disappearing completely. Only in O’Neil’s bar they can still figure out how to get a few nickels for beer or a cheap shot before the shakes set in.
The slang that O’Neil included in his play is a joy to hear. While watching the play on opening night I smiled at the usage of a word such as “tart” as well as most of the other slang in the original script. To ‘blow” someone to a drink certainly means something different today! Hearing these long forgotten words reminded me of how fluid language is across the American landscape. How quickly we change the way we speak. How every generation shapes communication into something they think is singularly special but in reality does nothing more than dress yesterdays’ fish in new paper.
Words come, words go, but like the human condition, the ideas at the heart of what is being said by a skilled writer are always the same. Audiences regularly attend Shakespeare and everyone knows that Romeo loves Juliet. But like almost every other 14 year old the kid gets tongue tied as he tries to understand what he feels and has problems expressing it. We know Richard the Third is an evil wiener even though he often speaks words of flattery and seduction. The language may be five hundred years old but the universality of what is being said comes through thanks to the skill of the writer and the actor on stage.
Yes, some of what O’Neil wrote was tedious and redundant. It is a challenge every production faces and director Lynda McClary’s choice to cut entire passages and at times even single words, tightened up an otherwise long, and you are right, occasionally dreary slugfest on the stage. McClary’s intelligent and difficult choices managed to keep the narrative of the piece and still present O’Neil’s ideas and language intact while keeping everything in context.