WINDY CITY TIMES
||The Hairy Ape
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
This article shared 1715 times since Wed Apr 30, 2003
Playwright: Eugene O'Neill
At: American Theater Company
Phone: (773) 929-1031; $25-$30
Runs through: May 18
In the early decades of the 20th century, American Theatre was dividing along several lines, each adhering to a distinct theory and form, and Eugene O'Neill wrote in near every one of them. Premiering in 1922, The Hairy Ape represents his most ambitious foray into the short-lived, but historically significant, genre of Expressionism.
The title character is Yank, a steamship stoker living contented in the bowels of the luxury vessel, until his view of the universe is shaken by the intrusion into his dark domain of what 'don't belong'—the boss' daughter, whose shock and horror at confronting the underbelly of affluence startles her into bestowing on him the sobriquet that refuses to wash away with the sweat and soot of his labor. Yank's subsequent pilgrimage into the wider world will take him down several disappointing paths in search of his place in a suddenly lonely cosmos.
This story could be as easily interpreted as a didactic treatise on social inequity as it could an existentialist fantasy, its subtext based in anticapitalist propaganda, romantic fable, or evolutionary theory. Damon Kiely, making his directorial debut at American Theater Company, imagines it as a spoken-word opera. From its curiously slow-paced introduction of the coal-smeared stokers lounging—if it can be called that—in their cramped quarters (where Yank's plea for a little quiet in order to 't'ink' is met with a united chorus of derisive laughter) to our hero's fatal dance in his ancestor's cage at the zoo, the action is not so much blocked as choreographed, its dialogue orchestrated as lyrically as an oratorio at the Green Mill.
In the common-man role of Yank, Jim Leaming burrows beneath O'Neill's arcane language and Kiely's artfully grotesque stage pictures to strike just the right balance of drollery and pathos. Fine performances are also forthcoming from Matthew Brumlow as a leftist-political shipmate, Editha Rosario as the unwitting siren and Suzanne Petri in a clever trouser-turn as the secretary of the IWW. John Musial's steel scaffolding conjures a world of industrial brutality and unyielding stratafications. Ultimately, however, this is an ensemble piece, its polyphonic harmonies integrated around a concept perhaps intellectually nebulous, but emotionally satisfying nevertheless.
This article shared 1715 times since Wed Apr 30, 2003
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