Review: The Hairy Ape

Bobby Cannavale in The Hairy Ape at Park Avenue Armory. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

Bobby Cannavale in The Hairy Ape at Park Avenue Armory. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

Prepare to be thrilled. And arrive early to take a few pictures before the show begins.

The Hairy Ape, Eugene O'Neill's one act play about class in America in the early twentieth century nearly blinds you with its bold visual aesthetic right when you enter the space. Stadium-style canary colored chairs face you as you walk into the majestic Park Avenue Armory.

The Park Avenue Armory is a cavernous, 55,000-square-foot historic building that specializes in unconventional, perhaps avant-garde productions that require an outsized space to mount. The set is fascinating to watch as pieces roll off and on like a train track. The design and direction of the show - not to mention the gorgeous Armory itself, is alone worth the price of admission. Kudos to director and three time Olivier Award-winner Richard Jones and his design team.

The 90 minute play puts actor Bobby Cannavale’s (TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Broadway’s Glengarry Glen Ross) acting chops on full display as he gives a very physical, powerful performance. He is equal parts bare knuckle boxer, Andrew Dice Clay, and Jean Paul Sartre. As Yank he swings from the "cage" of the stoke hole where his fire and strength propel a vast ship. When he briefly locks eyes with a member of the upper crust (an excellently bratty Catherine Combs from A View From the Bridge) his confidence flounders. His knuckles practically drag on the floor by the end of the show - exhausted by coming to grips with his social status in New York City.

Eugene O'Neill has never been one for brevity - there are long passages about class by ancillary characters. Yet his words are literature. There is a reason why he won both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. We are lucky to see his words brought to light in such a vibrant telling.

And with such a strong performance by one of his generation’s most dependable actors, The Hairy Ape will rattle your cage - in a good way.

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