The Classics Theatre Project Masters Expressionism and Alienation in O'Neill's 'The Hairy Ape'
By Cristee Cook
North Texas audiences can experience one of Eugene O’Neill’s lesser-known works with The Classics Theatre Project’s production of The Hairy Ape, now showing through Saturday, November 6.
The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill was published in 1922 and is considered one of the prime achievements of Expressionism in live theatre. A great American Expressionist Playwright, O’Neill is best known for his award-winning plays Long Days Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh.
Adapted and Directed by TCTP’s Artistic Director Joey Folsom, The Hairy Ape embodies Expressionism right away. A simple set of metal scaffolding and a stark color palette of red, gray, and black creates a blank canvas upon which to tell the thought-provoking story. The Production Designers: Folsom, Luisa Torres, Rhonda Rose, and Scenic Painter Jim Finger, use the space creatively. The scaffolding comes apart in certain moments to create new locations and the use of a vividly painted backdrop transports the audience to a big city. The design is simple, but powerfully so.
The night I saw the play, the actor playing Yank (Drew Maggs) was sick, and Folsom took over the role with script in hand. Despite this, the production was seamless and unified. Folsom delivered a passionate and focused performance. Yank is an angry, brutish character who is searching for meaning in a world designed for the rich. Rejection from his peers and a beautiful woman deepen Yank’s internal frustrations. Folsom renders Yank as determined and insatiable in his quest for answers to unanswerable questions.
The play is comprised of 8 scenes, several of which include music and singing, with an original score created and performed by Braden Socia and Petra Milano. The music underscores scenes and provides accompaniment and scene transitions. There were moments that the music was imposing in the small venue but given the story’s themes of repression and alienation - imposition works. Alienation, as a theatrical device, presents familiar things in an unfamiliar way so the audience empathizes not just with the drama of the storytelling, but so the audience can think more deeply about the themes. TCTP’s production successfully strips away many theatrical trappings and presents instead an actor-focused story.
Primarily an ensemble, the cast is versatile and unified. Jackie Kemp stands out as Paddy, the old Irishman who reminisces on his younger life and sense of freedom. Devon Rose as Mildred is appropriately tone deaf as the rich heiress who rejects Yank. Her character highlights Yank’s class awareness. Janae Hatchett plays several roles that act as support characters in Yank’s ever deepening struggles and is a great example of the old theatrical adage: there are no small characters.
The Hairy Ape aligns with TCTP’s mission of highlighting how classic plays can offer timely, immediate relevance in a contemporary world, and this production succeeds in that mission. Every day we see headlines that focus on the haves and the have-nots; every day we see the underrepresented fighting to have their voices heard. The Hairy Ape is a snapshot of post-war life in 1920’s America, and the societal themes within are just as prevalent in 2021 America. The Hairy Ape will entertain you, and it will leave you contemplating your place in the world.
The Classics Theatre Project presents The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill through Saturday, November 6, 2021. All performances are at The Core Theatre, 518 W. Arapaho RD.
Richardson, TX 75080. For tickets, visit theclassicstheatreproject.com, or at the door.