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Which O'Neill play is best?


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O'Neill's most highly regarded plays are "Long Day's Journey into Night" and "The Iceman Cometh". I studied some O'Neill at university, but have never seen his plays performed onstage. I prefer the latter myself, although my memories of both are hazy.

 

The Wikipedia pages give pretty good plot synopses.

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I read Iceman a fortnight ago, and really liked it. It's just one of those titles I've heard made fun of for such a long time (the gas man cometh etc!), that one day, bored at work, I looked it up on tinternet, and found out it was about a group of deluded alcoholics who sit in a bar, day after day, talking about what they're going to do with their lives (which of course they aren't because they're sitting in a bar day after day). Most of all they wait for this one particular guy Hickey; a travelling salesman who comes by once a year for a big blowout, and lets the others drink the bar dry on him. However, this year, they discover to their horror that not only has Hickey given up drinking, he's determined to make them face up to their own 'pipe dreams.'

 

Now, this struck a particular cord with me because it was Lent, and I always give up drinking and smoking for Lent, and find I take stock, get a lot done but go a bit mental. I was really surprised that something of this age could be so resonant: really a modern subject, I don't know where else I've seen it tackled in this way (and I'm not counting the 'Tragic Lives' section of WH Smith). The whole play reeks of booze and dirt and delusion and the ways in which people take their comfort. The only jarring bit was that some of the characters were written in O'Neill's version of New York italian vernacular (think Joey from Friends... but not quite so eloquent). Now, this brought up an interesting question: was O'Neill just not very good at capturing it literally, or has it changed wildly since 1940? I'm guessing probably a bit of both. When I read Iceman, it definitely set me wondering how it could be adapted to modern day Glasgow, probably the East End. Any budding playwrights should give it a shot!

 

O'Neill's life is fascinating in itself: His parents originally had two kids, and the older one caught chicken pox, and was told not to go near the younger one in case he spread it. Unfortunately he did, and the other wee boy caught it and died. The mother went into a deep depression, and the father was convinced that having another child would solve everything, even though she didn't want one. Thus Eugene was born and despised, and the older boy, Jamie, tormented and guilt-ridden. Their mother became a morphine addict. Jamie drank himself to death at 45. Eugene got kicked out of Princeton Uni for drinking, and became a sailor, tramp and prodigious alcoholic. And then... he gave up drinking and started writing.

 

Interestink and very much worth reading!!

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