THE HAIRY APE by Eugene O’Neill
Ron Sossi’s Odyssey Theatre Ensemble had a colorful beginning in the last century on the shady side of Hollywood. For over 45 years, Ron and actors, directors, designers, playwrights, publicity folks and all the elements of creating imaginative theatre have come together with Sossi’s interest in presenting Theatre. Not just plays, but Theatre in the sense that it fulfills the classic and ‘important’ role that The Theatre is called upon to play in world culture. His dedication to playwrights like Brecht and O’Neill to bring grit and importance to the Los Angeles Theatre Scene blossoms in the current production of O’Neill’s THE HAIRY APE. Add to Sossi’s dedication to the ‘stuff’ of world theatre his invitation to Steven Berkoff, to direct his own version of the 1922 play with a cast of seasoned actors? There we have something: Something important. Berkoff, now in his seventies, has a long reputation of not fooling around with his directing and has gained notoriety as a playwright, actor and teacher as well. Early on in his career he associated with Jacques LeCoq, a renowned teacher of a physical approach to acting. This physicality is abundant in Berkoff’s direction of this O’Neill and the energy and dedication in the ensemble, stylized and poetic, at once enchants and brings the text to life.
The language of the 1920s as we may remember from early motion pictures is not easy to reproduce. Haile D’Alan as Yank is thick and mean. He rules the Stoker Room where the crew’s singular task is to keep the engines of the giant cruise ship moving. Haile Parker’s costumes , Katelan Braymer’s lighting design on Christopher Scott Murillo’s bare stage bring the show to life. Berkoff’s ability to assemble his ensemble as a unit shows that when an imaginative director is given trust by his cast, amazing things can happen.
The energy of an early opening night (5PM) made some of the shouted dialogue difficult to understand. The early twentieth century style of O’Neill’s words takes a special affinity for losing contemporary rhythms, see? As this production moves forward, I’m sure that opening night adrenalin will dial back a notch or two. Even though the physical action of the play fully supports the dialogue, understanding the language is still important.
Yank and the crew are visited in the bowels of the ship by Mildred (Katy Davis) who has basically defied the influence of her Aunt “shiperone” (splendid Jennifer Taub) having told the Engineer that her father is a big wig and is led to the depths of the ocean liner in her pristine white dress to see how these ‘apes’ do their work. She faints at the site of Yank calling him a “Hairy Ape!” The incident sticks with Yank and spurs him later on shore leave in New York to taunt the ‘swells’ and even attempt to join the Wobblies (IWW: International Workers of the World) who sign him up and then reject him because his goal is to wreak havoc. Rejected, he finds his way to The Zoo where he attempts to connect with the apes. Ultimately, he does connect: to his demise. The physical work throughout is beautifully coordinated.
An important factor in the over all success of this production falls to the brilliant introduction of live percussion by Will Mahood.
THE HAIRY APE
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Steven Berkoff
ODYSSEY THEATRE ENSEMBLE
2055 S. Sepulveda
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through July 17, 2016
Tickets and Information
310 477 2055 x2