Iceman Cometh, The
a play by Eugene O'Neill, produced in 1946. The play marked O'Neill's return to the theatre after a twelve-year absence, and though widely heralded as a masterpiece, many critics felt it to be too long. A brilliant revival in 1956 did much to establish its reputation as one of O'Neill's greatest plays. In a seedy tavern run by the ironically named Harry Hope, a group of down-and-outs nurse their illusions with alcohol, bound together by the camaraderie of collective failure and hopeless pipe-dreams of the future. They are joined by a familiar companion, Theodore Hickman, an outwardly successful hardware salesman, commonly known as Hickey. Hickey's customary joke used to secure his drinking with the others is that his wife is with the iceman, but on this occasion he has come to threaten their composure with the news that he has given up drink. With a new-found peace of mind, Hickey discards his former illusions and advises the others to follow his example. As the play unfolds, Hickey reveals that he has murdered his wife Evelyn, out of hatred and marital despair, and that the ‘iceman’ is Death. When the police come for Hickey his companions fall on the idea that he is insane, and bolstered by this latest illusion, return to their customary world of alcohol and pipe-dreams. The immediate source of this starkly realistic drama was O'Neill's short story of 1917, ‘Tomorrow’, though it also draws on his knowledge of European theatre, of Gorky, Ibsen, and Strindberg.