From The Guardian UK
Ed here: As someone who spent his college years writing plays and who afterward worked with small theater groups who performed some of my truly terrible-embaraassing-amateurish one acts I have a great respect for American theater. Love Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams (big fan when I was young; less so now), (some) Albee etc etc. But to me the titan of American theater was and remains Eugene O'Neill and especially Long Day's Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh. Be sure to watch the Jason Robards Long Day's Journey on film (readily available) and the TV/theater production of Iceman with among many others the great Robert Ryan and Fredric March (why isn't March recognized for the great actor he was?). BTW the shocker in this current production is Nathan Lane. Chubby funny Nathan Lane is O'Neill's darkest play. He's getting raves.
This is form The Guardian:
Brian Dennehy: 'My director says I have more rage than anyone he's known'
At 76, the actor is currently climbing a theatrical mountain: the five hours of Eugene O’Neill’s bleak The Iceman Cometh. Yet he can’t resist – the playwright’s work, he says, is ‘like being infected with some longterm virus’
Brian Dennehy is tired. Robert Falls’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, first seen in Chicago at 2012, has bellied up to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for another run. So most nights of the week, Dennehy puts on a stained shirt and brown braces, knocking back rotgut in Harry Hope’s saloon for nearly five hours.
It’s his second shot at Iceman, having already starred as the traveling salesman Hickey in a revival at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, also directed by Falls. This time, Nathan Lane plays Hickey, while Dennehy appears as Larry Slade, the bar’s resident “foolosopher”, a former anarchist who has given up on the movement. On life, too. “What’s before me is the comforting fact that death is a fine, long sleep, and I’m damned tired, and it can’t come too soon for me,” he says.
Dennehy, 76, isn’t so nihilistic, though he did say he was hoping to go back to sleep as soon as the interview concluded. He spoke by phone from the bed of his Brooklyn rental apartment and the connection was initially very bad. “The phone that I have now, reluctantly,” he said, “can do anything including walk the dog, but it can’t be used while you’re reclining in bed, which I find very difficult.” Once he’d found a feasible angle, he spoke of his passion for O’Neill’s work and his impressive tolerance for alcohol.
When did you first encounter Eugene O’Neill’s plays?
It would have been 1973 or 1974. I was lucky enough to run into Bill Hickey, a legendary actor and teacher. In a very small theater that surely went out of business a month after we did our show, the Quaigh theater, we did the sea plays. They’re primitive, but at the same time his wonderful dialogue, his wonderful characters are there. It was like being infected with some longterm virus. As an Irish American, it’s pretty hard to resist O’Neill.
Arthur Miller and I had a conversation about it one night. Miller said that O’Neill was the deep diver. He was the guy who went down. He wanted to find out what the soul was all about. And he did. That’s what Iceman is. He went to places that no other writer has ever gone to. He was a philosopher of the soul.
His late plays ask so much of an actor emotionally. What draws you to them? It seems like such hard work.
You’re right. It is. You feel like crap, you’re exhausted, you may be sick, you may have a cold. I’ve got arthritis everywhere. I played football for years and if you’re lucky enough to live long, the football gods, that’s when they begin to really torture you. But it all disappears the minute the lights come up and you start walking down a small dark hallway or climbing down into this tunnel.
I have no idea what the attraction is. I cannot tell you how many times a day I say to myself, “Why am I doing this? Why do I have to go there?” I have no answer for it. The irony is that when O’Neill was writing Long Day’s Journey into Night, he wrote to a friend of his, saying, I can’t work on this anymore. It’s torturing me. It’s just brutal. I’ve decided to start fooling around with something else. I’m writing a play about the old days and I’m having the most wonderful time. I’m laughing all day long. And that was The Iceman Cometh!
The only audience that ever got the joke was in Dublin. The lights came up on that devastated vista of this guy slumped up over the bar, this terrible bar, and the Dublin audience roared with laughter. Roared! It’s a very dark scene to Americans. Not to the Irish! The Irish got it right away. They got every damn joke.
Does Iceman feel different now that you are playing Larry Slade?
It’s easier to understand his motivations and his disappointments. Larry is a guy who wants to break things. Part of his personality is he wants to smash society and that is constantly struggling with his natural sympathy for everyone, even the most sinful of all. As he says, he’ll never conquer it, he’ll look with pity at the two sides of everything until he dies – may that day come soon.
I find O’Neill’s vision of the world uncompromisingly bleak. Does it dovetail with your own?
I don’t even know if I want to answer that. I would just say that I find a lot more to agree with in O’Neill’s vision – you used the word, I didn’t – than to disagree. Except in terms of my kids and my grandchildren and my wife, it’s pretty hard not to look outside yourself and feel bleak. I’m not as dark as O’Neill, thank God. But I have my dark moments.
Do you have to go into that darkness in order to do this work?
My director and my friend Robert Falls – we fight like hell all the time, but he’s probably the person who’s had the greatest effect on my life. Falls always says that I have more rage than any person he’s ever known. I always get nervous when he says that. Tragic acting involves going to those places, places that do actually exist in yourself. I don’t have any trouble tapping into them. That’s probably a personality defect that I should see about getting fixed. But it’s probably too late.
In the play, a staggering amount of liquor is consumed. Have you ever tried to drink as much as Larry does? Could you get through the play if you did?
Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes.
I have seen Brian Dennehy in many plays at Stratford Shakespeare Festival and he is always amazing.
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