Thursday, May 23, 2019

REVIEW: "The Hairy Ape" at Grace Campus

The cast of The Hairy Ape
by Shane Strawbridge

The west Texas wind whips, and the walls of the barn performance space rattle slightly. The sounds of trucks rumbling by on the nearby street creep into the space. This is the setting for an imaginative staging of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, currently being presented at (and to benefit) Grace Campus.

The Hairy Ape is a 1922 expressionist play by American playwright Eugene O'Neill centering around a beastly, unthinking laborer known as Yank as he searches for a sense of belonging in a world controlled by the rich. When the rich daughter of an industrialist in the steel business refers to him as a "filthy beast", Yank undergoes a crisis of identity. One can’t help but see the same great divide between the classes in our own contemporary society—especially given the evocative location of the performance.

Unfortunately for the production, the location is an acoustical nightmare, making it difficult at times to decipher the words being spoken by the actors. At moments, the experience is more like watching an opera without supertitles. Although you may not understand a word they are saying from time to time, you can still follow what is going on due to strong performances and striking visual images from director Stetson Smith.

As Yank, Lydia McBee Reed, covered in sweat, grease, and alcohol, shows intelligence in her portrayal of a dumb laborer. She lives on the edge of her own psyche, one breath away from waxing poetic or exploding into a murderous rage. As Paddy, Steven Weatherbee is like an old mynah bird, squawking the same tales over and again. Weatherbee dives into this characterization full-bore, and it is quite satisfying to watch. One of the biggest (and most pleasant) surprises of the production comes from Mitej Dongarkar. Dongarkar does commendable movement work, at times a robotic automaton, in others an almost spider-monkey of a man contorting and twisting around the stage creating a sense of unease in those around him.

Director Smith’s staging uses minimal scenery to achieve locations both on land and sea, and his clever use of props and set pieces add to the effect—particularly the many ways he has the cast using simple wooden rods. The technical elements do more to support the production than attempting to stand out—a wise move in this sort of theatre setting.

The production proceeds benefit Grace Campus. The mission of Grace Campus is to inspire hope, instill value, and equip the homeless in the Lubbock area. Grace Campus not only provides temporary shelter for the homeless, but it also helps these individuals realize their potential and ability to live in an independent life that positively contributes to society.

The Hairy Ape runs through May 26 at Grace Campus, 1301 Avenue A in Lubbock. For tickets and more information, visit the production website here.

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