The streets that haunt the soul of the bewildered Yank are where this exceptional revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape finds itself expressionally planted. Intensely staged most beautifully by director, Richard Jones (Broadway’s La Bête) and designer, Stewart Laing (Broadway’s Titanic) in the majestic and cavernous Park Avenue Armory, O’Neill has never felt so unique and powerful. The two work quite dramatically together creating something unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The Hairy Ape, performed on a rotating donut shaped circle with us spectators dropped in the middle, follows the unraveling of a beast of a man, Robert Smith. ‘Yank’ as he more commonly is referred to as, loses his sense of self in a dramatic collision, sending him spiraling off, quite literally on a provocative hopeless journey for revenge that takes him from his place of ownership, the stokehole of an ocean liner to the streets of Park Avenue, New York City.
An impressive tableau rotates out from behind us when the play begins, showcasing a cage full of dirty tired workers in-between shifts stoking coal into the engines of a ship. Within this confined space, Yank is king. He knows himself, and is one with his role and environment.
Lit with the strong colors of yellow, green and beyond (lighting designer: Mimi Jordan Sherin), they are thrashed and thrown with the rocking of the ship, and by the ever-changing dynamics of self and worth.
Titanic, Caroline, or Change) is wonderful as this old timer but he is in no way a challenge to the machine driven masculinity of Yank’s view. The choreographed visuals (exceptionally work by choreographer, Aletta Collins) and the stilted dialogue that in no way is meant to appear as natural or realistic (dialect coach: Kate Wilson creating something intensely unique) offer us a powerful descent inside the hearts and souls of these worker men.
A fascinating footnote is that the dialect is written into the script, making it, as I’m told by a fellow theatre junkie, “a tough read but awesome out loud”. The ever-changing stylistic sounds, colors, and landscape only enhance the expressionistic approach to Yank’s world, and his eventual fall from the steadiness of his self-worth. (for the full review: click here)