NEW PALTZ -- Playwright Eugene O'Neill is an enigma. Although widely acclaimed as America's greatest dramatist, his plays are rarely performed. He is simultaneously lauded for the grandiosity of his ideas by critics outside this country, and condemned by American critics who claim that these ideas are vague. "The Hairy Ape," a pivotal work written by the playwright in 1922, is presented by the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz, February 26 through March 7.
"Before Eugene O'Neill, most American drama was farce or melodrama. O'Neill, however, embraced the theater as a venue to work out serious social issues and ideas. He transformed the American Theater into a serious and important cultural institution. "In 'The Hairy Ape,' O'Neill has done what happens only once in a dramatic generation-and almost never then-he has invented a fable. He has created a story that begins and moves and ends in a line so right, so just, so simple and inevitable that it might easily be taken for granted by the imagination of American theatre. [The New Republic, November 15, 1922]
"The Hairy Ape" tells the story of Yank Smith, a brutish coal stoker on a transatlantic liner who bullies and despises everyone around him, considering himself superior. Yank is devastated when a millionaire's daughter is repulsed by his ape-like ways, and he vows to get even with her. Ashore in New York City, Yank schemes to destroy the factory owned by the woman's father, but his plans fail. Yank wanders into a zoo. There, feeling alienated from humanity, he releases an ape for whom he feels some kinship, propelling the play's dramatic and shocking finale.
Considered one of the prime achievements of Expressionism theatre, "The Hairy Ape" confronts the effect of industrialization and technological progress on the worker, harshly criticizing a world in which industrialization has alienated the human worker, and has reduced him to a machine.
Performed by a cast of more than 50 actors directed by Theatre Professor John Wade, the production is significant for its symbolic use of masks and movement supervised by Yoav Kaddar, and an original audio score composed by Stephen Kitsakos.
Performance Dates: February 26, 27, 28 and March 4, 5, 6 at 8pm February 29 and March 7 at 2pm Parker Theatre
Friday Night Forum February 27, 7pm, Free and open to all. Production Director and Theatre Professor John Wade discusses Eugene O'Neill's work and his place in American theatre.
Tickets: $14 general admission, $12 seniors and students. Box Office 845-257-3880.
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