Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s ambitious ensemble piece The Iceman Cometh runs October 25 – November 24. Manolo Santalla has acted at WSC Avant Bard, Constellation Theatre Company, GALA Hispanic Theatre, 1st Stage, Spooky Action Theater, and Journeymen Theater Ensemble. He makes his Quotidian debut with Iceman, and has this to say about his history with the play and his character Hugo:
I’m a freshman in college at the University of Maryland. My new best friend Fred and I are in the Student Union cafeteria between classes drinking coffee, smoking (everyone smoked indoors then — deal with it), and talking about plays. He mentions Eugene O’Neill, whom I don’t know, and tells me about two of his plays: Mourning Becomes Electra — I like the title right away and want to read it — and The Iceman Cometh – I dismiss it because I don’t like the title. I tune out most of what Freddie says about the latter because, well, I dislike the title. But he mentions a character who is onstage all the time, wakes up periodically, says weird stuff, and falls back asleep. I’m intrigued. I read the play. I’m too young to understand a lot of it, but the character of Hugo Kalmar makes an impression.
Let’s fast track to a few months ago: I’m lucky to be auditioning for Quotidian’s production of The Iceman Cometh, reading for several parts, but the only character that appeals to me is Hugo. I read the play before the audition, and keep asking myself: Why does Hugo say such weird stuff? Why does he wake up? Why does he fall back asleep? Why is he at Harry’s bar? How did he get there? Why does he sing that weird song? I have no answers, but I keep thinking about all this the day after the audition. After a few days, director Michael Avolio calls me and offers me role of Hugo. When I show up for my one-on-one meeting with Michael to talk about Hugo, I’m armed with two typewritten pages — my version of Hugo’s biography — where I have attempted to answer some of those questions I asked myself. I’m pleased with some of my answers; annoyed with some of my assumptions; and roll my eyes at some of the holes in my version of Hugo’s story. I go home thinking about his fears, his regrets, his hopes. Does Hugo have any hopes?
Before rehearsals get really on the way, I go on a previously-planned trip to Poland, and I promise myself not think about Hugo — after all, I’m visiting a country with a rich, politically-complex, tragic history, and there’s plenty to learn and think about. I’m at the National Museum in Warsaw; it’s small and empty compared to other art museums in European capitals. I’m practically alone in the Canaletto Room (not “the” Canaletto of the famous Venice paintings, but his nephew of the same last name), looking at his paintings, and out of the corner of my eye I see Hugo.
He is an old man. He looks worn out, with bad posture, dressed in an ill-fitting dark suit. His black shoes are thick-soled, dirty, and he shuffles some when he walks. He is unshaven (oh, he doesn’t look cool like a bro with a few days’ growth), his hair is, well, forget it — he’s got very little left. I move closer to him. Mercifully, he doesn’t smell. He doesn’t notice me. He gets close to a painting, looks at it intensely through his wire-rimmed glasses, as if trying to understand it, as if waiting for the painting to speak to him and give him an answer. He leans in to look at what? Details? He steps back, and continues to stare. He looks disappointed, and lowers his head. Why? Maybe the painting didn’t speak to him; maybe the painting refused to speak to him; maybe the painting spoke to him and he is disappointed with the answer. I wonder how many people have disappointed him; how many people have failed him; how many people have not returned his calls. And now even paintings are doing him wrong. He moves to the next painting. He stares at the canvass, and the questioning process begins again. Is that it? Does the questioning, the disappointment, the search, ever stop for Hugo?
Oh, please, give the guy a break. This guy could be an art scholar, an absent-minded professor, a rich eccentric, who in his mind is comparing “the” Canaletto’s technique with the nephew’s. Or maybe he’s just an old man with bad eyesight.
I reject those thoughts with one of my usual elegant expressions: “Nah.” This Hugo is not just dealing with cataracts. My Warsaw Hugo is looking for answers to unanswerable questions because he has been through too much disappointment.
When I return to rehearsals, I find the questioning never stops for me, either.
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.