Billed as "a comedy of ancient and modern life in eight scenes," the Wooster Group's long-workshopped version of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape will finish its commercial Off-Broadway run at the newly reopened Selwyn Theatre May 25. Willem Dafoe stars in this avant-garde production, which began previews March 21 and opened April 3.
The opening on New York's formerly blighted West 42nd Street came just one day after Disney rechristened the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre just across the street.
Not only did the experimental work have to deal with walk-outs from audience members unaccustomed to the Wooster Group style, the production had to cope with picketers outside the theatre from "The New Victory Theatrical Union Coalition," comprising members of such unions as the American Federation of Musicians (Local 802), Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers (SSCD), Association of Theatrical Press Agents & Managers (ATPAM), and IATSE guilds for wardrobe, ticket sellers, porters & cleaners, and ushers & doormen. Their problems with the Selwyn -- that it was a non-union house -- were since resolved.
O'Neill's 1921 Expressionist drama, The Hairy Ape, tells of a ship's stoker whose sense of power and belonging gets shaken after a confrontation with the daughter of the ship's owner. Elizabeth LeCompte directs this version, which has been designed (by Jim Clayburgh) with movable steel parts that expose structural supports and interior mechanics of the set itself. Also creating the Ape mood will be video (Christopher Kondek) and soundscape, all "developed in relation to the architecture of the space." Jennifer Tipton designed the show's lighting; John Lurie, former member of "The Lounge Lizards," composed the music.
Also appearing in this experimental piece, which started as a work-in progress in 1995 at the Wooster Group's "Performing Garage" home in Soho, will be company members Kate Valk (as Mildred) and Peyton Smith (as Her Aunt). Rounding out the cast are Roy Faudree, Paul Lazar, Scott Renderer and Dave Shelley. The play was performed in Brussels in spring 1996 and will tour to Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin and Barcelona this summer. As for the Selwyn Theatre, it was built in 1919 by the Selwyn brothers and remained a legit theatre until 1935 when it was turned into a movie house.
Other plays by Eugene O'Neill include Ah, Wilderness!, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Desire Under The Elms, Rope, Hughie, Mourning Becomes Electra and The Iceman Cometh. Dafoe has appeared in many Wooster Group pieces but is best known for his film work (The Last Temptation of Christ, Light Sleeper).
For tickets ($45-$55) and information on The Hairy Ape at the Selwyn at 229 West 42nd St., call (212) 239-6200. The production is part of the 1997 Whitney Biennial. Frederick Zollo, Nicholas Paleologos, Hal Luftig and Ron Kastner are producing the play along with Wooster Group.
--By David Lefkowitz