“Liked it very
much. Acting was superb.”
“Especially enjoyed the acting of the actress who plays Eleanor of Aquitane. The actor playing King Henry 11 was also good.”“A most enjoyable evening. We were there on opening night. Great Script. Sylvia Burboeck as Eleanor was phenomenal.”
“Excellent Play. The two leaders outstanding, definitely experienced and classy professionals next to the lesser experienced supporting cast.”“Very witty, especially Eleanor’s performance.
Yank, in turn, is shocked to realize how he is
viewed by his “betters”, and his sense of humiliation quickly
turns into furious rage. A primal lust for revenge drives him to a
mad frenzy, like a whipped cur ready to bite and tear his enemy to
pieces. But, like a whipped cur, he has been hurt too deeply to ever
erase the pain. Bent on revenge, first against this scornful
“skirt”, and then against her whole class, he embarks on a
painfully quixotic pursuit of personal justice in an uncaring
society. Raging against the soul-less cardboard cutouts of
wealthy Fifth Avenue New Yorkers only earns him 30 days in jail.
Attempts to join the “Wobblies” (International Workers of the
World) so he can “blow things up” bring him only scorn and
Through his eyes, we see the vast world in which he has no place, and from which he gets no respect, even from lowlifes and laborers like himself. He wanders New York without friends or supporters, estranged even from the clean streets, clear air, and bright sunlight, so different from his familiar world of dirt, darkness, and choking coal dust that it is intolerable to him. Yank’s increasing isolation and desperation become movingly palpable with Hiser’s every darting glance and the nervous movements of a trapped animal. His constant mantra of threats against “the enemies” grows weaker and less assured with each repetition.
Gradually the audience sheds its initial distaste for this “uncivilized brute”, and begins to hope against hope that some comforting resolution can come to him. It is as futile as wishing a happy ending for King Kong. Both are primitive creatures, at home in their own environment, but incompatible and threatening in a world outside their comprehension, and both doomed to destruction by “civilization”. It is a tribute to Hiser’s heartbreakingly visceral portrayal that the opening night full house held its collective breath during his final heroic moments. Many even wept. A thunderous standing ovation from a sedate more-than-middleaged crowd paid well-deserved homage to his bravura performance.
The strong supporting cast also received audience
plaudits, especially seasoned actor Dean Creighton, weighing in as
an old Irishman, nostalgic for the brave days of real sailing ships,
and craftily able to calculate just how far he can push Yank’s
volcanic temper. Charles Woodson Parker, a Bay Area newcomer, gave
an earnest turn as a young idealistic Socialist, sincerely trying to
help Yank realize the futility of his solo attack on the greedy
capitalists, and to enlist him in the Great Class Struggle. Two outstanding women played a brief bitter scene
as genteel-looking wealthy passengers, lounging casually in deck
chairs, but spitting and scratching at each other like common alley
cats. Beneath their stylish attire and proper outward appearance,
they proved even nastier than the stokers, whose physical dirtiness
and coarse language pre-prejudiced viewers at first sight. Trish Tillman as willful pampered young Mildred
(the heiress) and Liz Ryan as her snapping-turtle aunt/chaperone
obviously had a wonderful time with their roles, and perfectly
represented O’Neill’s jaundiced opinion of the privileged upper
classes. Ryan Terry and Robert Allen Shattuck also have
wonderful cameos as a ship’s engineer nervously deferential to the
“big boss’s daughter”, and a tough surly prison guard. All of the cast members played multiple ensemble
roles, both on and off-stage, and were kept in constant motion by
visionary director Eric Fraisher Hayes. A multi-talented actor,
educator, and now Artistic Director, he has restored new vigor to
the Role Players Ensemble Theatre at the start of a promising
Physical and aural details of his devising emphasized the deliberately Expressionist style of the work, and a corresponding exhibit of famous Expressionist artists, from Franz Marc to Vassily Kandinsky, adorns the newly-renovated lobby, now the Village Theatre Art Gallery. New Managing Director Robin Taylor also brings a wealth of talent and experience to Role Players, as an award-winning performer, sought-after teacher, and Manager/Director of several theater companies. A well-known dialect coach, he trained the immigrant seamen in their excellent mastery of authentic accents. Particularly sensitive sound and set design by Bo Golden and lighting design by Chris Guptill evoked the specific settings of each scene, and brought the audience into the stokers’ world, the infamous NYC prisons, and the primate jungle area of the zoo, an amazing accomplishment.
Although not as well-known as O’Neill’s later autobiographical plays, early works such as “The Hairy Ape” are still amazing in their emotional impact and the passionate humanity of his new ultra-realistic style. These are hard-hitting and important plays, and thanks to the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, they are receiving excellent revivals that should renew audience enthusiasm and respect. Just don’t miss James Hiser’s knockout performances while they still explode on the Danville Theatre stage – it’s the opportunity of a theatergoer’s lifetime!
The Hairy Ape, written by Eugene O’Neill in 1921 and first performed in 1922, addresses O’Neill’s concerns about the personal, dehumanizing toll capitalism was taking on the working man everywhere, and the fears he had about the growing threat of socialism. The play takes us down into the boiler room and firemans’ forecastle (living quarters) of a transatlantic passenger ship, where the men are drinking and cursing their lives, their hopes, fears and failures. The principal character, a brutish laborer named “Yank” (James Hiser), identifies himself with the raw power generated by the boilers he stokes. Without him and his kind, he boasts that the ship would be worthless, a hunk of iron sitting idle in the middle of the ocean. This is his world, a world in which he imagines himself as the master.
When Trish Tillman as Mildred Douglas,
the beautiful daughter of a very powerful steel magnate is escorted
down the gangways into the belly of the ship, Yank’s bullying,
raging tirade against her for being allowed down in an area where
she does not belong, evokes her assessment of him as a “filthy
beast”. Her words (still ringing in his ears), begins to wear on
him, eventually bringing about an identity crisis. In his search for
identity outside of his ship’s confines, he finds he is not
equipped by education or social mores to fit in anywhere else, only
finding solace with the gorillas in the zoo. Yank, the character,
has also been interpreted by some as being representative of the
human condition, alienated from nature by his isolated
consciousness, unable to find belonging in any social group or
This play under the direction of Eric Fraisher Hayes, and the superb acting of James Hiser, is a heart-stopping powerhouse of emotion. Hiser truly becomes the “filty beast”, feared and respected for his strengths in his ship-board confines, yet awkward, confused and uncertain in the outside world. The excellent cast includes Dean Creighton as the sadder but wiser Irish alcoholic, “Paddy”; Charles Woodson Parker as the cockney socialist, known simply as “Long”; Willem Long as the Industrial Workers of the World Union organization’s local leader; Ryan Terry and Robert Allen Shattuck as boiler room shipmates; Liz Ryan as Mildred’s aunt and Trish Tillman as the spiteful, self-centered rich-girl, Mildred.
“Thoroughly enjoyed The Hairy Ape.
The acting was superb and the visual effects were creative. James
Hiser was brillant in his portrayal of “Yank”. It was a
thought provoking play – timeless struggle to belong.”
“I think it was very well done. Eugene O’Neil was an excellent playwriter, a profound observer of humanity. If you want to experience something over the top and want a play that will give you food for thought, you’ll enjoy munching on this one! James gave an intense performance and the supporting cast helped make the play shine. Don’t miss it.”
“OMG! The production was the best I have ever seen at this venue. It was opening night and they all performed superbly. They even invited us to a champagne reception after the show. The seats assigned by the box office were perfect. Way to go Goldstar!”
Sally Hogarty, Curtain Calls, Walnut Creek Journal, 8/16/2010
Role Players Ensemble joined forces with the Eugene O’Neill Foundation to open its season this past weekend and the foundation’s annual festival with a production of O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape.” The show and the festival continue through Sept. 25.
Written in 1922, O’Neill’s play fits perfectly into the festival’s theme — the birth of expressionism.
In “The Hairy Ape,” O’Neill uses Yank, a stoker in the furnace room of a trans-Atlantic steam liner in the 1920s, to express his concerns about workers and the failure of the capitalistic system. Director Eric Fraisher Hayes uses bold choices to convey Yank’s increasing inability to relate to his fellow humans. His stylized production includes the ensemble wearing masks, manipulating puppets or hiding in the shadows as Yank becomes more alienated.
Dean Creighton, Charles Woodson Parker, Ryan Terry, Bob Shattuck and Willem Long create diverse characters from a variety of countries, mostly with convincing accents. But it’s James Hiser who carries the show as Yank.
Hiser has the powerful body essential to this role, but he also manages to develop a complex character whose intimidating, raw animal power constantly threatens to explode. Trish Tillman as the self-absorbed little rich girl and Liz Ryan as her aunt/chaperone provide nice comic relief to Yank’s long socio/political tirades.
O’Neill’s play can be a bit preachy, but Hayes’ briskly paced direction, Lisa Danz’s costumes and Bo Golden’s set/sound design keep it interesting