Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s ambitious ensemble piece The Iceman Cometh runs October 25 – November 24. Actor Carolyn Kashner (formerly Carolyn Myers) returns to QTC after appearing in the company’s best-selling musical James Joyce’s The Dead, and has this to say about her character Margie and the deeper themes of the play:
“Carolyn, you’re not playing a tart. Your character has sex with men for money. You’re playing a prostitute.”
A verbatim quote from my mother after seeing me perform as Belle in Ah, Wilderness! back in 2007. The description of Belle, written in the first few pages of Eugene O’Neill’s only comedy, characterizes her as a “tart” or a “flirt”. So, naturally, those were the descriptors I used when explaining the part to my mother after I had been cast.
But she was right. I was playing a prostitute.
Flash forward to the present. I am now performing in my second O’Neill play as, you guessed it, a “tart”. In fact, Margie (my character) and her counterpart, Pearl, encourage other characters to call them “tarts” instead of “prostitutes”, as I had similarly described the character of Belle to my mother a few years ago. It occurs to me what a strange parallel that is. Why would it mean so much for Margie and Pearl to refer to themselves as “tarts” and not “prostitutes”? Why did I describe Belle as a tart to my mother after I had been cast in Ah, Wilderness! and not a prostitute? If something is so obvious, how can it be so easy for Margie (and me) to deny?
When I first read a play I often take it at face value. After reading The Iceman Cometh, my first thoughts were along the lines of, “okay, a bunch of drunks sit around alternately being friends with each other and then fighting with each other, and then they sing and drink some more.” But as I did a little research, deep themes started to emerge. The biggest one being this idea of pipe dreams. The idea that all of the characters in this play cling to dreams that are either unrealized in their pasts or impossible to achieve in their futures. All of these characters (most based on people O’Neill knew in his lifetime) talk proudly of their dreams. The action of the play ignites after characters are confronted by the impossibility of their dreams. And when confronted, they become hostile and angry.
After researching this fact, I thought, “well, of course, that fits for most of the characters in the show, but how does it relate to Margie? She doesn’t have any aspirations for her future or ruminations on her past. She lives in the moment.” But as I dove further into the text, I found out that I couldn’t be farther from the truth. Almost every line Margie has defends her own pipe dream: a belief that she’s not an actual prostitute. Being called a “tart” instead means validation for her existence. The reality of prostitution causes her discomfort and shame. And that’s just it: Margie’s pipe-dream is her self-delusion. A hope that she hasn’t stooped to the level of becoming a real prostitute. Once I discovered this, I found that every single line of her’s supported this theme. And I began to see the same in every character’s lines. I felt as if I was starting to understand everyone’s motivations and actions, as if I could see through the text of the play. The play itself started to come to life. And I really started to empathize with O’Neill’s disillusionment with the American Dream. I think he wanted us, the actors and audience, to take a good look at our own dreams. Are we being realistic? Are we capable of becoming ourselves at our best? Maybe I’m a little more optimistic than O’Neill, but I think so.
And next time I’m playing a prostitute in an O’Neill play, I’ll at least own up to the fact.
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.