THE HAIRY APE ENTERTAINS AT TAO HOUSE
As a special fund-raising event for the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, The Hairy Ape became the first drama to be staged at O'Neill's former home. Tao House offers several playing spaces of real potential. In a production by the Hanover College Theatre from Indiana, the play was staged in the courtyard of the house, under the long balcony that provided the necessary upper stage for Mildred and her mother.
The coming of the play to Danville was the result of a visit a member of the Tao House Board of Directors made to an interesting gathering, The Wabash (Indiana) College Eugene O'Neill Festival. There assembled, several of the smaller Indiana colleges had created a festival of some distinction, which offered to the participants and the general public an opportunity to witness several plays, each staged by a different college, to see video-tapes of other plays and to hear lectures and informal talks on the plays and on O'Neill's place in American theatre and literature.
It was a simple occasion, but one which had an importance far beyond its modest pretensions. Especially compelling was The Hairy Ape, staged by Tom G. Evans, a member of the Hanover Theatre faculty. The play was simply mounted in a rebar iron cage which could quickly change its contours as needed to become the stokehole, the mannequin's window, the jail or the cage. With a kind of Brechtian detachment, at the end of each scene, the actors dropped their roles, changed the shape of the cage, and then, at a signal, recommenced the play.
Central to the effective presentation was the performance of Jim
Baird as Yank. Baird had been a weight-lifter in his early college
days, but, as he matured and found in
theatre material of importance to him, he turned away from pumping
iron. He had the physique and the sensitivity to make Yank work.
With imagination and considerable daring, he brought the play
to a tragic level that was ably supported by the young actors
who rounded out the cast. Since the cage was eminently portable, a
tour was arranged for University of California theatres and for
three performances at Tao House. There, under a fortunately full
moon which bettered Belasco in
The play sold out for the length of its run and was reviewed with enthusiasm. All who saw it felt it to be an auspicious debut for drama at Tao House.
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