DRAMA Staging of “The Hairy Ape” initiates audience into introspective mode, says T. SARAVANAN

“Who am I?” the question sounds philosophical but shakes you out of your slumber. Numbed by the cacophony of multiple noise and mechanical lifestyle, the much valuable finer elements of life are lost and it becomes too late when realisation sets in. At the end you lose your identity and try to gain one.

Identity crisis forms the central theme of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill's play “The Hairy Ape” presented by the English Literary Association of The American College.

Powerful portrayal

Here too, the protagonist ‘Yank' (as called by his friends), a head coal stoker in an ocean liner, thinks himself as the power behind the world, “I am the start… and the world moves…” But sadly, he is reminded of his position when Mildred Douglas, disgusted by his hirsuteness, calls him a “filthy beast”. It pulls him down from the status of being an optimistic and powerful leader to a degenerated personality in quest for identity.

He visits the Fifth Avenue to settle scores with the woman, who turned him away. But he is totally out of place at the posh residential area, as no one takes cognisance of a human standing in front. Instead, they are busy in their own world. His next attempt to associate himself with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) also ends futile, as he is chucked out as “brainless ape”.

Disillusioned by all these happenings he finally tries to identify himself with the gorilla in a zoo and dies in the hands of the animal.

Effective presentation

Given the limitations, the team has done great job in effectively bringing out the essence of the plot. Right from the word go J. Jothi Vignesh, III B.Sc. Zoology student donning the role of the central character, was in his elements. He did enough justice to his character with heavy accented English and exaggerated hand movements. The excessive use of animal imagery is also well brought out. But one should also understand that his actions are outcome of his frustrations. Pushed to a corner, he actually reacts in a way totally unacceptable to the outside world.

Also, the peripheral socialism of those who preach welfare of the workers is also badly exposed when those at the helm of the affairs at the IWW find satisfaction in distributing handbills and labels, quite evident from the protagonist's outburst, “my liberation comes from here (he shows his stomach).”

Smeared by the world again and again, he even forgets his name at one point of time and recollects only after some time as “Bob Smith” (Robert Smith). This ‘Chaplinistic-pathos' creates sympathy for the lead character among the audience.

His atavistic longings are well portrayed in the climax when he virtually feels stranded as he can neither go back to the past (forest, the land of the animals) nor to the present where sophisticated zanyism rule the roost.

The robotic actions of people in Fifth Avenue portray the mechanical life as the director of the play cleverly improvises the scenes happening in the Fifth Avenue. He has also condensed the actual play to suit present day requirements.

The peppy dance sequence, choreographed by M. Ganesh (alumnus of the college) of Tap Foot dance school, in the opening scene provides good entertainment for the audience.

K. Arun Kumar, M.Phil. English student, who played the role of Paddy in the play, did his job to near perfection excelling in dialogue delivery. His voice clarity had done a world of good to the performance.

While Shri Balaji, student of III B.A. English, who donned the role of Long, was commendable in expression. For most part, he matched Yank's wild behaviour and couple of times he also receives blows.

Extremely expressionistic, the play strongly condemns the dehumanising effect of globalisation. “We are not sermonising nor has the playwright intended to do so. But we have only dramatised the central theme of identity crisis. Though the play was written in 1921, the relevance it holds even today is amazing. Globalisation has stripped off your identity as you are not what you are. Take for example people working for outsource companies where they are identified either by numbers or by fake names,” says N. Elango, director of the play, who has also handled the lights.

Set designs done by Gunasekaran of Department of Visual Communication, though not extraordinary gelled well with the play. Costume designs by Sheba and David, lecturers in the Department of English, deserve kudos. The proceeds of the play will go to the endowment for the economically disadvantaged students of the college.

This thought provoking entertainment has turned out to be subjective in a sense that it has evoked few pertinent queries that are set to awaken everyone.