The Barrier of Dishonesty in The Iceman Cometh

by Gayla Nelson

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The curtain rises on Act II of The Iceman Cometh with a surprising change for the audience.  The bar scene is cleared away and in its place is a maze which fills the stage.  The maze is made of a sheer see-through fabric and it is obvious that within the maze are many cubicles. The fabric is very sheer so as to not limit our ability to hear each character and also so that we may see them through this thin veil.  Within each cubicle a solitary character sits with a drink. The only exception is Parritt and Larry who share a cubicle, though they sit in chairs each with his back to the other.

The actors say their lines from within their individual cubicles up to the point where Hickey enters from the right front of the stage ready for the party.  Hickey enters the maze saying his lines as he walks through the maze, but unable to find a way into any of the cubicles. He continues to move throughout the maze, continuously talking while looking for any way in that he can find, but any entrance to any one of them seems impossible for him. The other various characters continue to say their lines periodically attempting to reach through the sheer fabric, but are unsuccessful in making human contact with each other, without that slight material remaining as a barrier to complete connection.

 Hickey finally stops in the middle of the maze to deliver his soliloquy apologizing for “some of the rough stuff I’ve had to pull on you” (112).  Once he announces that his “beloved Evelyn is dead” (115), he moves again through the maze, but still cannot find an opening and Act II ends with him stepping back out of the maze in the front of the stage and he exits left as the curtain comes down.

The impact I would like for this to have on the audience is that as hard as Hickey tries to make a connection to these people, he cannot.  The barrier of dishonesty is still standing between them all.  He has preached to them to face their fears, drop their pipe dreams and act, but he is still only telling half-truths himself.  He has yet to make his confession of the murder, and while some characters may feel sympathy towards them, the expression they deliver is that he has, “brought the touch of death on him!”(115).

The characters are within their cubicles because while they may be hanging out in the same bar, day in and day out, they are not making the human connections they need to make. The maze symbolizes the never-ending cycle in which these characters live their lives. They are  always planning what they will do tomorrow, but are never willing to leave the security that this enclosure provides in order to pursue any of these pipe dreams. These are the illusions they perpetuate in day-to-day conversations.

 Because Hickey is the only one who does not live in Harry Hope’s bar and his visits are dependent upon when his job brings him into town, he is the only one who has that movement throughout the maze, but it does not yield an opening to the other characters for him either.  He also has the movement through the maze because he is attempting to make a personal connection and change with each character, while most of the other characters in the play are not interested in doing anything that disrupts the status quo.  I would want the audience to see the desperation of Hickey as he tries through his long speeches to convert these people to how he thinks they should be, with the understanding that at this point in the play the audience does not yet know that he actually murdered his wife.

Parritt and Larry are in a cubicle together because they are inextricably joined.  Larry cannot get away from Parritt no matter how much he may want to.  He is drawn to Parritt because of Parritt’s mother, just as Parritt is drawn to Larry as a father figure and as the one person from whom he needs some sort of absolution. Throughout the scene, Larry and Parritt remain sitting back to back because neither of them is yet up to “facing the truth” that will ultimately end with Parritt’s suicide – the only way he can break through this maze and completely disconnect from his guilt, but only after making his confession to Larry.  The audience is not yet aware of the outcome of these two, but understand that there is a connection since they are the only ones in a cubicle together.

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