The Hairy Ape Review - A Surrealist Vision of Hell

Playwright Eugene O’Neill’s rarely produced play will raise goosebumps as he aims lethal volleys at social class, downtrodden uneducated workers, and the rich but vapid elite. Like Sampson, Yank has had his locks shorn in this production - but remains a powerful and poignant leader of men. He just can’t seem to find his place in the world. He never knows just where he belongs – but it is never where he happens to be.

 

Andres Paul Ramacho, Joseph Gilbert, Haile D'Alan, Benjamin Davies, Anthony Rutowicz, and Paul Stanko - Photo by Enci Box

An uneducated man who can barely read, Bob “Yank” Smith (the talented Haile D’Alan) is an Everyman who tries to ponder life’s inequities while shoveling coal into the belly of an ocean liner. This is the 1920's, when the Industrial Revolution was in full sway and workers were just beginning to organize and make demands of their employers. Born on the Brooklyn waterfront - “that was where I was dragged up” - Yank craves something amorphous which he can’t quite verbalize - perhaps feelings of worth and self-respect. He is a coal stoker whose primary talents appear to be his Herculian strength and his ability to feel pride in his work. In his brutish and physical world, there is little time for philosophical meanderings. Yank seems happy doing his job well while occasionally wondering if there is anything better out there for him.

 

Jeremiah O'Brian, Joseph Gilbert, Andres Paul Ramacho, Haile D'Alan, and Anthony Rutowicz - Photo by Enci Box

Enter Mildred (Katy Davis), the beautiful, sophisticated, and bored daughter of a multi-millionaire steel baron and ship owner. She too may feel that something is lacking in her life - but its luxury and power have kept such questions at bay. She is traveling on the very same ocean liner and has manipulated the ship’s captain into arranging for her to visit the ship’s bowels to observe the men confined endlessly in the smoky, steaming heat doing a dirty but necessary job. Just at the moment when she enters Yank’s dark and forbidding world, she happens upon a furious Yank who is raging at the ship’s engineer with threats of death and dismemberment. Yank swings his shovel in fury and spins around - and first sees Mildred, an otherworldly image all in white, standing terrified behind him. As he gazes at her in shock, she screams and beats a hasty exit. 

Jennifer Taub and Katy Davis - Photo by Enci Box

Suddenly, Yank is confronted by the very real social class differences which divide society - a chasm which he cannot breach. He feels that he has become ape-like and trapped. He is shamed and angry and vows revenge on Mildred and her privileged group. One of his fellow laborers, Long (Paul Stanko), insidiously introduces Yank to the evils of their situation, casually mentioning the Communist movement and the Industrial Workers of the World. The rapt Yank is awed by the possibilities. This is definitely an accident waiting to happen. 

Joseph Gilbert, Katy Davis, Jennifer Taub, Dennis Gersten, Anthony Rutowicz, Haile D'Alan, and Paul Stanko - Photo by Enci Box

Director Steven Berkoff has focused on the physicality of the piece and has crafted scenes of beauty and grace in the hell of Yank’s world. The stage is nearly empty, with lighting and the occasional bench to carry forward the mood. Into this spare background, the movements of the workers become poetry. Even the stilted movements of the “hoi-polloi” offer a kind of dance which pinpoints the strengths and weaknesses of an entire painfully stratified society. O’Neill’s language may be poetic; but the dialog is often difficult to understand, peppered with a variety of thick accents and Yank’s Brooklyn-English. However, the ideas are crystal clear and transmitted via nonverbal means and methods. The production team manages to keep the mood highlighted, even when the scene is in shadow. Special kudos to a very talented cast who keep the tension alive in a piece which might otherwise seem dated. American society has changed, but people remain the same. The surreal quality of this interpretation is noteworthy and lends an added dimension to THE HAIRY APE.

Andres Paul Ramacho, Jeremiah O'Brian, Joseph Gilbert, Benjamin Davies, Anthony Rutowicz, Dennis Gersten, and Paul Stanko - Photo by Enci Box

THE HAIRY APE runs July 17, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on selected Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets are $25 to $34 with discounts for students and members of Equity/Sag for select performances. For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or go online at www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

 

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