RE-PRODUCING 'THE ICEMAN'
Joyce E. Henry, Ph.D.
"It was raining the day I met Ted Mann [one of the three producers at the Circle in the Square]; a cold relentless, depressing October drizzle, which soaked up the color of the world like a sponge and squeezed it back out again in dull tones of grey and black."
I came across this pseudo Melvillean passage from the beginning of one of the many pages I wrote while working at the Circle in the Square during the run of The Iceman Cometh. Somehow, innocent, though I was, I recognized that I was a participant–albeit a very minor one–in theatrical history, and I wanted to observe and record as much as I could. I wish I had done more.
Iceman opened on May 7, 1956; Brooks Atkinson, the Times theatre critic, ended his enthusiastic review proclaiming the play, "a mighty theatre work, O'Neill . . . a giant, and Mr. Quintero . . . a remarkably gifted artist." I was only dimly aware of this event, since the O'Neill reputation was in eclipse–the common belief was that O'Neill was dated and unworkable–and I, personally, was involved with forthcoming summer stock plans. Not until after a summer of Bus Stop, Tea and Sympathy, The Solid Gold Cadillac, and something called Time Out for Ginger, did I view Iceman for the first time. When I emerged into Sheridan Square shortly after midnight, I was shattered emotionally, but also exhilarated, knowing that I had just seen theatre at its very best. The heavy atmosphere of the theatre space, with its low ceilings, crowded seats, with tiny black tables bolted to the floor between each two (later I understood their necessity), and the physical immediacy of the actors was overwhelming, but most specifically, the electric performance of Jason Robards as Hickey was unforgettable. Writing in The New York Times seventeen years later, stage manager Michael Murray stated, "His performance . . . defined O'Neill for a generation."
Much has been written about Jose Quintero, about Jason, and about the reestablishment of Eugene O'Neill as one of the great playwrights of the twentieth century, which began with that production of the Iceman, but, as I'm sure you know, theatre is the result of the collaboration of many people, and as one of them, I would like to describe some of the experiences of working during the run of such a historic production.
There were three producers of the play, Jose Quintero, Theodore Mann, and Leigh Connell. If Jose was the creative genius, Ted was the administrative genius, and Leigh was the Southern gentleman who kept them from killing each other.
To return to that raining October day, I was applying for a job in the box office that I did not particularly want, but a friend had recommended me, and I could not think of an excuse fast enough. "If you go to work there, Joyce," he said helpfully, "just don't let Ted Mann screw you."
(Read more next week.)
© 2010 by Joyce E. Henry. All rights reserved.
(A graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse, Joyce E. Henry acted, off-Broadway and in regional theaters, managed a dozen off-Broadway shows, wrote A Matter of Conscience, a play about Fanny Kemble, directed the theater program at Ursinus College, and edited five books, including One on One: The Best Women’s Monologues for the 21st Century; One on One, The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century; and Duo!: The Best Scenes for Two for the 21st Century—all from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.)
(Read Theodore Mann’s memoir, Journeys in the Night, also from Applause.)
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