Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Hairy Ape


While it can’t duplicate the excitement with which Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist play was greeted 95 years ago, this gripping revival accomplishes the difficult task of making this problematic play acceptable for a 21st century audience. The Park Avenue Armory has imported a production originally done for the Old Vic and adapted it to take advantage of the enormous space of their drill hall. A bank of bright yellow stadium seats greets you upon arrival. The action takes place on a revolving stage with elements that roll into view as needed. One element is a long bright yellow container open in front that serves first as the stokehole of an ocean liner and later as the gorilla’s enclosure at the zoo. Richard Jones’s creative direction and Stewart Laing’s striking design are enhanced by stylized movements choreographed by Aletta Collins, brilliant lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin and music and sound design by Sarah Angliss. Bobby Cannavale’s (The Motherf**ker with the Hat) visceral performance as Robert Smith (Yank) anchors the production. David Costabile (Titanic, Billions) shines as Paddy, the salt who misses the good old days. Catherine Combs (A View from the Bridge) is fine as Mildred Douglas, the rich young lady who wants to see how the other half lives but, when she sees Yank, calls him “a filthy beast” and then faints. Becky Ann Baker (Good People) is good as her disapproving aunt. The other cast members also excel. Yank, who had not only accepted but relished his place in the order of things is so unhinged by Mildred’s reaction to him that he loses his bearings and starts the downward spiral that ends at the zoo. While O’Neill’s take on class conflict and the search for identity in the industrial age may have lost some of its power today, this production makes the best possible case for giving the play another chance. Running time: 90 minutes; no intermission.

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