Four-act play by Eugene O'Neill, written in 1946 and set in 1916. The plot revolves around a group of long-term lodgers at a boarding house in New York. These are men and women whose lives, for various reasons—mostly related to alcoholism—have never come together.All of them exist in a state of inertia, mooching room, board, and alcohol from Harry Hope, the proprietor, who periodically makes empty threats about throwing out those who can't pay their bills. Everyone, including Harry, has a pipe dream about finally going out and doing that one great thing he's been planning for years, but just hasn't gotten around to yet.
As the play opens, everyone is waiting for the arrival of Theodore "Hickey" Hickman, a traveling salesman who comes around twice a year to get plastered. Hickey has a reputation for being free with his money and good for a laugh. This year, though, he arouses suspicion by saying that he's on the wagon and that he's there to help them give up their futile pipe dreams and enter the state of blissful apathy he himself has achieved. His newfound contentment, however, is not quite what it seems.
The play beautifully and mercilessly shows the layered, elaborate ways in which people deceive themselves in order to avoid the reality of their lives. As in most of O'Neill's plays, the characters and incidents remain fascinating for several hours even though very little actually happens.