Menu Bar


Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. III, No. 3
January, 1980



The Dartmouth Players Repertory Company's 1979 summer season at the Hopkins Center in Hanover, NH, featured, from August 8 to 24, a splendid production of The Hairy Ape. The dedicated teamwork of a group of skilled theatre artists—two of whom are represented in articles following this report—turned an all-student performance into a memorable and revealing dramatic experience. Lighting, sound, sets, costumes, and coordinated stage movement—especially the kinetic energy in the forecastle and stokehole; the cinematic flow between scenes; and the choreographed mannerisms of the dancing, half-masked aristocrats on Fifth Avenue combined to create a unified impact both cerebral and visceral.

Figure 1

Figure 2

As the accompanying rehearsal shots by Stuart Bratesman may suggest (figures 1 and 4), the stokers looked neither sea-seasoned and coal-smeared nor old and bent from labor; but they handled O'Neill's challenging dialects effectively, and the lengthy Scene-One aria of Paddy (figure 4) --uttered to harmonica accompaniment with all action temporarily frozen around him—was a moving lament for a happier (though probably illusory) past.

Mark L. Lotito (figures 2 and 3) was outstanding as Yank. A performer capable of both gruffness and lyricism, both brawny aggressiveness and balletic grace, he created a protagonist in whom one could believe and for whom one could feel great pity when, after ejection from the IWW headquarters in Scene Seven, he wills his own death by entering the gorilla's cage and inviting the embrace of a killer (another "member of dis club") who will go on, briefly, to wreak the revenge that Yank had found himself incapable of carrying out. When he arrives at the zoo, he discards a bag of peanuts that he had purchased—throwing it away as he will also throw away the unspent portion of his life. After the gorilla deposits Yank's crumpled form in the cage, bangs the door shut, and prepares to exit, it picks up the discarded bag, and the last sound we hear—in a production rich with vocal and electronic sounds by George B. Todd—is the cracking of one last peanut. Undeniably a directorial interpolation, but a most evocative one.

Despite several stylized moments—the freezing of all other actors during Paddy's aria, the use of slow motion in the ejection of Yank from the IWW office and his hosing at the end of the prison scene, the aura of ritual in the bandaging of hands and Yank's presentation of shovels to his subordinates in the stoke-hole scene, and the half-masks and grotesque choreography for the Fifth Avenue crowd—the production emphasized the realistic rather than the expressionistic elements of the script. There was, for instance, no emphasis on the "cramped space" of the stokehole and no "brazen, metallic" choral echoes of Yank's words. Still, symbolic tableaux underscored thematic points, as in Yank's being stationed, in Scene One, between Paddy (spokesman for the past) and Long (activist for the future), and in his tormented position on stairs at stage-right in Scene Five, half-way between the masked dancers above and below him—a tragic figure, totally lost and alone.

Figure 3

Figure 4

John Carver Sullivan's costumes—especially the half-masks worn by the IWW members, the aristocrats, and Yank's fellow prisoners on Blackwells Island—added immeasurably to the production's impact, as did the lighting of Stephen R. Woody. I remember particularly the dark blue of the cyclorama, against which the omnipresent and oppressive overhead girders were starkly silhouetted; the red glow from the furnaces reflecting on the stripped torsos of the stokers; and the one small but glaring light suspended above Yank's prison cell, spotlighting the dejected outcast as he listens to the reported speech of Senator Queen.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this memorable production. The following essays by director Michael E. Rutenberg and scenic designer Bernard J. Vyzga, plus a portfolio of Mr. Vyzga's drawings for the eight sets he constructed, will give a fuller insight into how it was done and the concept of the play's protagonist that provided its momentum.

--Frederick C. Wilkins

P.S. One apology to Mr. Vyzga: the slide of his drawing of Scene Two was reversed by the printer (i.e., the figures of Mildred and her aunt should appear at the viewer's left), and time limitations prevented my sending the slide back for correction. But I couldn't bear to renege on my promise that the Newsletter would enter the 1980's with a burst of color—pale though it be, and in contrast to the brilliance of the artist's original water-colors. --Ed.



© Copyright 1999-2007