on April 9, 2015 by test_editor in Coming Events, WEB-EXTRA content, Comments Off on Web-extra (April 10, 2015): Review: Chamber Theatre Hintonburg’s “The Hairy Ape” at Carleton Tavern (until April 18th)

Web-extra (April 10, 2015): Review: Chamber Theatre Hintonburg’s “The Hairy Ape” at Carleton Tavern (until April 18th)

Web-extra (April 10, 2015): Review: Chamber Theatre Hintonburg’s “The Hairy Ape” at Carleton Tavern (until April 18th).

By Allyson Domanski.

[Ed: you still have time to catch this local gem at the Carleton Tavern.]

At its political core is man’s struggle with his fate.

Chamber Theatre Hintonburg (CTH) does it again, bringing another gritty premiere to Ottawa from the canon of American theatre while stamping the production with its unique tavern-venue signature.

CTH has revived the 93-year-old unusually named drama pretty much as playwright Eugene O’Neill intended “The Hairy Ape” to be produced. Although not a period piece (costuming is less formal than 1922), the staging and Expressionist acting style of exaggerated symbolism and vivid contrasts achieves an effect similar to what early audiences would’ve understood as the text’s relevance. The production succeeds without ever deigning to trendy post-modern allegory, which thankfully spares it from seeming hackneyed. The play feels fresh for all its coal-dust filth.

At its political core is man’s struggle with his fate. It enacts the tragic tale of Brooklyner Yank–performed pitch-perfect by shirtless sexy Donnie Laflamme–a cocky, lower-class coal-stoker caged in the bowels of a transatlantic liner alongside a ragtag of hard-drinking co-stokers. Irishman Paddy couldn’t be more convincingly captured by grizzled Louis Lemire than had the lithe leprechaun come from the Emerald Isle itself. Paddy reminisces about his days aboard clipper ships where men were freer than those enslaved in this stinking stoke-hold, lending insight into the changes wrought by Industrial Revolution machinery. Paddy yells “we lives in hell,” but Yank brags “y’er too old…’dis is a cinch!” Yank gets knocked off his pedestal during an unexpected visit by Miss Douglas (snooty little rich goil played in suitable condescension by Laura Hall). She’d been criticized as a “poser” by her portly aunt (Ellen Manchee) who disdains poor classes for feeling poorer in the presence of aristocrats. Dismissing her “old hag” of an aunt, the ingrate niece descends into the stoke-hole wearing, of all things, a white dress. Aghast, the upper-crust “tart” calls Yank a “filthy beast”. His co-stokers mock him (“the hairy ape“), launching an identity crisis that makes him “t’ink“–an activity so alien to his sensibility that Yank poses like Rodin’s The Thinker, supposing that’s how it’s done.

After learning that New York’s 5th Avenue upper-crust are all identical in a class-awareness sermon preached by Long (whose Cockney is delivered beguilingly by Matt Smith), Yank unravels. Gets vengeful. Gets jailed. Disenfranchised Yank finds sympathy from International Workers of the World Secretary (Kevin Reid) but then gets thrown out after threatening “to blow stuff up.” The play hearkens vaguely to contemporary themes in the Idle No More and Occupy Movements against global social and economic inequality, but Yank is too primeval in consciousness to do more than brood or put up his dukes. He suffers rejection. He doesn’t belong. No more capable of fitting into modern society than of busting class barriers, lonely desperation drives our “hairy ape” into the disquieting embrace of a real hairy ape. Left coddling the chains that once ensnared the species whose evolution approximates Yank’s devolution, Laflamme deftly covers the role’s range from bombastic loutishness to pitiable amoeba. Yank’s character flaws make him go overboard but Laflamme rescues things.

2 actors

Louis Lemire, -Donnie Laflamme

Lisa Zanyk’s nimble direction draws fine performances from her 16-member cast, which don’t appear the least challenged by limitations like a 6-foot-by-10-foot stage in a bar. Set design is spare but evocatively grungy, as are costumes (by Donna Bourgeault). Musician Matt Smith created interesting soundscapes, combining live and recorded sound.

3 actors

Donnie Laflamme, Jed Rached, Brent Rouleau

At the Carleton Tavern until April 18th. Tickets: 613-791-4471 / 613-791-0097;

See http://www.chambertheatrehintonburg.ca and http://www.eventbrite.ca .

 

[Ed: Wikipedia on “The Hairy Ape” lists various other successful productions from 1922 to just a couple of years ago.   ]

 

 

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