Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Updated Ape 

Cleveland Public Theatre reenvisions Eugene O'Neill.

How does a modern black man become a disaffected European immigrant from the 1920s? By getting beyond the limitations of skin color.

"I hate painting things black and white," explains Jimmie D. Woody, the African American portraying the misogynistic, misguided Yank in Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape, opening Wednesday, March 20, in Cleveland Public Theatre's Gordon Square Theatre. "If O'Neill had lived today, he would have written it for somebody who's black."

Race is a vital concept within the play, which was penned more than 80 years ago and originally written with white wage slaves in mind. It depicts the rift between the working class and the social elite, and follows Yank, an ocean-liner coal stoker, through a series of tragic foibles.

Altercations involving the daughter of a steel magnate, the law, and even his own legion lead the brutish character through an inevitable downward spiral. The more he is likened to an ape, the closer Yank comes to his own crude enlightenment. "He's not just a raging lunatic," Woody explains. "He's a raging, thinking man."

Director David Herskovits thinks the nontraditional casting of the role is crucial. Once theater becomes predictable, he says, it loses its relevance; it should always be a new and exciting experience. "When we serve too much of the past of the theater, we sacrifice the form," he explains.

The theme still resounds today. Herskovits likens the world of The Hairy Ape to "a strange dream of Cleveland," one in which theatergoers -- watching the story of factory owners treating their workers like disposable machines -- can leave the theater and witness steelworkers being handed their walking papers from local mills.

Unfortunately, adds Woody, "a lot of people can see a bit of themselves in Yank."

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club


Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.


Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.


Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Speaking of Highlights

More by Chris Miller

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.


Website powered by Foundation