Saturday, March 23, 2002

Hairy Ape (Cleveland Public Theatre)

'HAIRY APE' at CPT more style than substance

After seeing 'THE HAIRY APE' at Cleveland Public Theatre no one will accuse guest director David Herskovits of not being creative. His imagination in staging is evident throughout. But, as happens with productions which stress style over substance, the production fails to fully develop the author’s intent and purpose. So much effort was placed on visual images that acting nuances, vocal projection, and idea development were lost.

'THE HAIRY APE' is Eugene O’Neill’s major expressionist play. It draws heavily on the philosophy of Freidrich Nietzsche and from the concepts of psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

'THE HAIRY APE' centers on a depiction of the suffering caused by societal attitudes. O’Neill conjures up a nightmare in which Yank, a steamship stoker, searches for a place to belong, only to end crushed in the arms of a zoo gorilla.

Herskovits, the Artistic Director of the Target Margin Theatre in New York, has conceived a vivid production. He manipulates his actors like chessmen, every move programmed. He uses all parts of the Gordon Theatre, a former movie theatre which is in the process of being refurbished. The partially destroyed balcony, the underbelly of the balcony, the open staging area, and the aisles are all fair game.

Unfortunately, lost in the staging is a lack of attention to presentational detail. Jimmie D. Woody as Yank lacks a clear idea of the meaning of his lines. His final speech, which should be wrenching, makes little sense. Many of the cast are hard to understand due to garbled pronunciation and poorly conceived accents. Performers feign characterizations rather than developing ideas. Sound is often lost under the balcony overhang and actors presenting lines with their backs turned to the audience create sound vacuums.

Capsule judgement: If you are interested in seeing a visually compelling production, and are willing to set aside the playwright’s intended meaning, CPT’S 'THE HAIRY APE' will satisfy you.