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Posts Tagged ‘The Hairy Ape’

Soon after this Eugene O’Neill play started, I was thinking how experimental it was; how different to all his other plays. Then I remembered Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape and realised what an experimental playwright he really was – though this is still very different, largely because of the extensive use of soliloquies, where the actors switch from talking to each other to talking direct to the audience.

Nina loses Gordon, the love of her life, before they’ve got going, when he goes to war and never returns. Family friend Charles is obsessed with her, but she choses doctor Edmund to impregnate her and hapless Sam to marry her & bring up baby Gordon with her, with the on-off affair with Edmund continuing. When Gordon grows up and Sam dies, she’s faced with choosing between Charles and Edmund again.

This must have been radical stuff in 1928, when it ran five hours. It’s pretty radical 85 years later, though more because the soliloquies still make it original. It’s mercifully now just over three hours; the first half is still overlong, but it redeems itself in the second. I couldn’t make my mind up if the production was sending it up a bit, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not an entirely satisfying evening, but it is an intriguing one.

In as fine a set of performances as you’d wish for, Anne-Marie Duff shines as complicated new woman Nina, but she’s well matched by a superb turn from Charles Edwards as, well, Charles, and a lovely characterisation of Sam by Jason Watkins. American Darren Pettie’s UK debut is certainly an auspicious one; his performance as Edmund is very compelling. Soutra Gilmour’s terrific design is a Frank Lloyd Wright style home in the first act and transforms cleverly from a NYC 5th Avenue apartment to a boat to a pier-side in the second.

If only they’d been even more radical with the scissors and trimmed another 20/30 minutes from the first half, it would have been a lot sharper. As it is, it’s a flawed but fascinating glimpse at a play that was clearly way ahead of its time and still seems original today.

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