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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. XI, No. 1
Spring, 1987



1. DEN LUDNA GORILLAN (THE HAIRY APE), directed by Peter Oscarson. Folkteatern (The People's Theatre), Gavle, Sweden. Opened on November 15, 1986.

It was a significant tribute to O'Neill's early, more experimental drama when Den Ludna Gorillan (The Hairy Ape) premiered at the radical People's Theatre in Gavle, a city north of Stockholm, on Saturday, November 15, 1986. This was the first presentation of the play in the Scandinavian countries. After its premiere in New York at the Playwright's Theatre on March 9. 1922, it was produced in a number of capitals all over Europe, but never in Scandinavia. (Sweden had its first taste of O'Neill when the Royal Dramatic in Stockholm opened a production of Anna Christie on October 25, 1923, followed six weeks later by a production of the same play in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden.)

The director of The Hairy Ape, Peter Oscarson, and his set designer, Peter Holm, fenced the audience off in the amphitheatre with a grating, symbolizing the steel of the ocean liner, the fence around Central Park on New York's Fifth Avenue, the bars of the prison, and the cages in the zoo. The effective set, impressively lighted, added much to the production. The stage was divided between a background acting area and a platform that jutted into the audience, and a similar fence-like grating was provided for spectators in the balcony.

The play opened in the firemen's forecastle on the platform. The naked torsos of the stokers were greasy and sweaty, and they were all drinking and shouting. Out of this collective group of humanity three individual characters emerged: Yank. the slow thinker, who envisions a future of steel and steam; Paddy, the Irishman. with poetry on his tongue and memories of the old clippers; and Long, O'Neill's anti--capitalist, class--conscious spokesman. An intermission followed the scenes on the liner (1-4), and both the instructions and the intent of the playwright were effectively realized throughout. Particularly effective was the emphasis on Yank's separateness from a variety of collectives---the other stokers; the Fifth Avenue millionaires, who pass him by on a revolving floor; the other prisoners, who respond to his attempt to "belong" with scornful laughter; the I.W.W. members. who oust him as a provocateur; and finally the apes in the zoo.

Yank was effectively played by Rolf Lassgard (in the front of the accompanying photograph), who made agonizingly clear the desperation in Yank's repeated attempts to belong somewhere. Peter Haber had the true touch of the poet as Paddy, providing a vivid contrast to Yank, as did Ole Range as Long, whose ego was well anchored to the ideas and ideals of Marx. Arrne-I,i Norberg and Pia Arnell caught to the full the heartlessness of Mildred and her aunt, and the various group-collectives were skillfully choreographed and trained by the director. One example of that skill was the stylized ballet of Scene Three, as the stokers shoveled coal into the engines.

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The whole production was full of vitality, with living personalities in the solid collective contrasted with the lonesome Yank, who belongs nowhere. It was, on the whole, a victory for the People's Theatre, its ensemble, and the director.

The program contained a number of hints suggesting Dante's Divine Comedy, but here everything starts in Paradiso, goes to the Inferno, and ends in some sort of Marxian Purgatorio, typical of Peter Oscarson's view of life. Featured in the program were a number of woodcuts of proletarian life by Frans Masereel. What was missing was something about O'Neill himself---his life, his work, and the impetus behind and history of the play being presented. The program answered no such questions, which was unfortunate for the first Swedish production of The Hairy Ape.

However, the production itself was something to admire. By coincidence. the same play also opened a week earlier at Schaubuhne in West Berlin, directed by Peter Stein. There the set design was more spectacular, but the performance lacked the poetical magic of the Swedish production.

--Tom J. A. Olsson



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