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The Hairy Ape
Ashmore Fine Arts Auditorium, Pensacola Junior College
February 22-24 and February 29-March 2, 2008

Director: Rodney Whatley     Technical Director: Bob Gandrup
Assistant Director: Roxanne Johnson     Costumer: Edee Green
Movement Coach: Caroline Norman     Percussion Director: Ashley Platts
Props and Masks: Sarah Setta

Yank - William Thompson
Paddy - Mario D. Cieri
Long/Man 1 - Steven McHaley
Man 2/Guard - Ricky Terry
Man 3 - Gavin Parmley
Man 4 - Michael Miles
Man 5 - Jonathon Harris
Mildred - Rachel Paedae
Aunt - Tana Olsen
2nd Eng/Sec. - Brooke Martin
Woman 4 - McKenzie Ongalo
Woman 5 - Deanna Oakley
Woman 6 - Austen Edwards

Act 1     Act 2

PJC Theatre Dept. Goes Wild with O’Neill’s Ape

Written by Eugene O’Neill in the 1920s, The Hairy Ape is one of the more unique plays I have seen in local theater. The Pensacola Jr. College Theatre Department, directed by Rodney Whatley, opens a six-performance run of The Hairy Ape tonight in PJC’s Ashmore Fine Arts Auditorium. I had never seen this expressionistic drama before a recent rehearsal and I was not prepared for the emotional impact it carries, nor the ingenious manner in which Whatley has approached this material.

The central character is a brutish everyman named Yank. Early on, Yank is secure in his position of primacy as foreman of an engine room crew aboard an ocean liner. He rules this gritty, narrow universe with an iron hand, but when a refined female passenger, horrified by his appearance and demeanor, calls him a “filthy beast,” Yank’s self-image and entire concept of reality are turned upside down.

Yank is played by PJC student William Thompson, and as I watched a recent rehearsal, I was amazed that this young actor could so thoroughly draw me into his character’s tortured psyche. Thompson offers us a Yank who is aggressive, angry, alienated and, perhaps most important, eminently sympathetic in his vulnerability.

The Hairy Ape is at once highly symbolic and starkly realistic; laser-beam focused and as broad as society itself. O’Neill’s exaggeration of social archetypes penetrates to their very marrow.

The play calls for audible rhythms to drive home its themes, and Whatley has expanded this concept considerably, challenging his cast to perform frequent percussive accompaniments within scenes – sequences that are somewhat reminiscent of the popular group “Stomp.”

What is fascinating about this group percussion – whether it’s the clang-bang rhythm of the workers stoking the ship’s engines, or the subtle, round-robin slap of a card game – is that the cast carries out their actions as if the percussive elements were not present. These beats seem to represent the rhythms of life that can imprison us, that can hold us in a stifling place simply because we are so unaware of their presence and power. In The Hairy Ape all the characters are confined in one way or another, but it is Yank who has decided he must rage against the invisible walls that threat to suffocate him.

His quest takes him to the streets of Manhattan, where he suffers both the physical pain of being pummeled and jailed by the police and, even worse, the emotional pain of rejection and utter indifference.

Yank finally winds up at the zoo, where he has a deeply poignant “conversation” with a real ape. This is perhaps the most powerful moment in the script, and Thompson’s strongest work in the production as he drives home the sheer depths of Yank’s emptiness. We see a man reaching inside, one last time, for that “something” that’s got to be there for anything else to matter.

I was impressed with the consistent energy displayed by the entire 12-member cast. Notable in supporting roles are Mario Cieri as Paddy, the play’s older character who must was eloquent in early monologues; and Steven McHaley as Long, a fervent young socialist who seldom finds the “off” switch for his soapbox rhetoric.

This is powerful theatre that drives home its message with a bang – literally and symbolically.

Andy Metzger, Pensacola News Journal

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