Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Marin Theatre Produces Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape
The Hairy Ape is the story of Yank, a 20th Century everyman who finds himself caught up in a struggle of man as an animal vs. man as a machine. He is a strong coal stoker on a large ocean liner and he is the master in his own little world. He is a boisterous man. His language, his strong body, his mind are full of the commanding power that comes with his past. He is free in a world of his own making until the daughter of a wealthy industrialist descends into the bowels of the ocean liner to observe the stokers at work. Yank becomes obsessed with a world that he did not know, a world of capitalism, wealth and "beautiful people." He seeks revenge against all of these when he tries to assimilate into this world and is rebuffed.
In a brilliant scene that takes place in front of a posh jewelry shop on Fifth Avenue, people coming from an affluent church and wearing commedia dell'arte masks ignore him or shove him aside. He is caged by the police as an animal, "disturbing the calm tranquility" of the wealthy class. Yank goes to the fledgling I.W.W. in hopes of joining a "radical" union, but he's rebuffed by the members who feel he's a spy for the capitalists. He finally goes to the zoo where he attempts to connect with an ape who in turn rejects him also.
The Marin Theatre has presented a razor sharp 1 hour 20 minute production with the powerful Aldo Billingslea in the role of Yank. This actor is charismatic as the anti-hero. He has a booming voice and he seems as if he were a volcano ready to erupt. It is a sterling performance. Bethanny Alexander is properly icy in her small role as the daughter of the industrialist. She has a cool, calm manner, and is always dressed in white, implying that the "dirty world of industry" never sullies her life. Joe Bellan, one of the Bay Area's best character actors, is miscast as an old Irish stoker who has seen better days. He is very difficult to understand, especially when he gives his long speech about working on windjammers as a youth. His Irish accented speech does not come over well. Kevin Blackston who has one of the best theater trained voices around, plays several roles, and his voice is captivating. The rest of the cast seems like a Greek chorus of hard drinking, loud masculine men.
This fascinating production by director Lee Sankowich ran through April 7. Marin Theatre's last production of the 2001-02 season, William Gibson's Two for the Seesaw , will open on May 16 and runs through June 9.