Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s ambitious ensemble piece The Iceman Cometh runs through November 24. Reviews can be read at DC Theatre Scene and DC Metro Theater Arts. Actor Steve Beall has appeared in five previous QTC productions, including last season’s hit musical James Joyce’s The Dead. He has also acted with Pallas, Red Eye Gravy, Spooky Action, Chesapeake Shakespeare, Synetic, Lean & Hungry, Journeymen, Taffety Punk, Constellation, Folger Shakespeare, Forum, Inkwell, Bay, and Rep Stage theatre companies. This is the second of two pieces he’s written about Iceman, the first being here.
Being in Nothingness
A long time ago I read or heard somewhere that the whole world is based upon a single crazy “miracle”: the fact that instead of there being nothing, there is something.
That stayed with me. It seemed so obvious, but every now and then I’ve found myself reminding me of it. “Instead of nothing, there’s something.” (“Myself reminding me.” Catchy, right?)
That “something”, of course, includes me. You, too, near as I can tell. And all the rest of what Eugene O’Neill called “the whole misbegotten mad lot of us…”
So when a character in our production of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh expresses his admiration for a preacher, citing “the way he sold them nothing for something…” Well – the line really lands for me, every time.
From where my character sits, that’s what’s happening. I’m being sold nothing for something. In this case, the nothing is what most of us would call “reality.” The something we pay is the loss of the world we’ve created in the face of the vast nothing that is reality. The pipe dreams.
I know. It seems convoluted. But that’s part of the great achievement of this play. It makes real the emptiness of a life of mere fact, the richness of the world we create out of our passion (or, in other words, our suffering), our compassion, our good humor, our fears, our hopes, our fleeting triumphs and our enduring failures – all of that appears simultaneously.
This accretion of apparent losers in Harry Hope’s bar stand to lose everything. Everything. Not merely their paltry lives, though those are certainly on the table, but also what I guess we have to call their “livingness” – the lives they have created out of the “nothing” of reality.
The play’s been called nihilistic; it’s anything but that. It gives nihilism – the recognition that whatever our lives are, they’re built upon nothing – its due. But this play feels like a pitched battle between nihilist realism and the humanity of people trying live anyway – to face life’s ultimate meaninglessness by creating what meaning they can – however flimsy.
This life and death struggle is either sheer cowardice – a failure to face the reality of the emptiness of life – or it’s the most noble courage – to stand for life in the face of the surrounding void.
It’s a toss-up who will win, if anyone. And what would “winning” look like, anyway – for these men and women, or for you or me, or for any of the “misbegotten mad lot of us”?
There is something, instead of nothing? Who sez so? Maybe that’s just not true. Maybe, there lives no “dearest freshness deep down things” – but only a core of vast emptiness, ever expanding, ever drawing us in, ever telling us to face “the truth.”
As mere men and women, how do we answer? Or can we?
Quotidian Theatre Company presents
The Iceman Cometh
by Eugene O’Neill
Oct 25 – Nov 24, 2013
Featuring Steve Beall, Matt Boliek, Frank Britton, Danny Brooks, John Decker, Tiffany Garfinkle, Genevieve James, Carolyn Kashner, Steve LaRocque, Ken Lechter, Brian McDermott, Brandon Mitchell, Louis Pangaro, Manolo Santalla, Ted Schneider, Chris Stinson, Christian Sullivan, and Frank Vince.
Director: Michael Avolio.
Artistic Adviser: Bill Largess.
Stage Manager: Christine Alexander.
Show times are 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays, with one additional 2pm performance on Saturday, November 23.
Tickets are $30, or $25 for seniors and students, and can be purchased by cash or check at the door, online at Brown Paper Tickets, or by phone at 1-800-838-3006 ext 1 (ask for Quotidian Theatre Company). $15 per ticket for groups of 10 or more (email for reservations). Subscribers, email QTC or call 301-816-1023 for reservations.
All performances are held at The Writer’s Center: 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
The venue is a short walk from the Bethesda Metro Station. There is free parking on Saturdays and Sundays.