Well, this is it. A long road, a lotta rehearsal (and that’s Lotta with a capitol L, folks), a few sore throats and a serious wrench later, and Eugene O’Neill’s THE HAIRY APE is finally ready to show its ugly mug to the world. Starting with a special preview show double-bill tomorrow night at the legendary Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield (immediately following the show, castmate Jed Rached will be leading his band the Fat City 8 into a blistering blues set). After that, we hit the just as legendary Carleton Tavern in Hintonburg in Ottawa for a three week run. Now, Ottawa audiences are familiar with the sight of Chamber Theatre at the Carleton Tavern, their main stage for most of their career (tho they’ve played such esoteric venues as Cube Gallery, the Elmdale Tavern, and Collected Works bookstore), but I can pretty much guarantee they ain’t seen anything like Eugene O’Neill’s APE around these parts for quite some time. So far, we’ve been unable to track down any evidence of it having ever even been performed in Ottawa…and if anyone has any knowledge about a past performance, I’d love to hear some specifics! Because this show lives up to its name…it is a Beast, and no fooling. And what the Chamber gang has done with it is going to take this classic of American Theatre and turn it into one of the most energetic and engaging pieces to crash into your senses this season…crash into’em, and beat’em senseless.
Lisa Zanyk and Donnie Laflamme are the beatin’ heart of Chamber Theatre, and have been working like stokers in the bowels of a ship to bring this classic of American Theatre to life in Ottawa. Donnie takes the lead in the show as Yank, O’Neill’s steel-tough, grimy, iconic everyman champion, and a vicious brute when he wants to be (which is often). One of the most unlikely leads a play has ever had, and Donnie Laflamme is a fiendishly great fit for this hard-luck hero…I can’t think of anyone else in O-Town who has the sheer power to pull it off. Previous collaborators from their production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Louis Lemire and Matt Smith, are back in this one as Paddy and Long, respectively, two of Yank’s fellow coal-shovelling cronies. Meanwhile, above decks, Laura Hall and Ellen Manchee keep the filth of the stokehole at bay as upperclass Mildred Douglas and her Aunt. It’s Mildred who unwittingly fires the plot into action, indulging herself in some ‘social service’ with disastrous results.
The cast is filled out by a mighty ensemble filling a variety of roles, including my Strange Visitations stage partner Madeleine Hall, plus Rebecca Laviolette, Jed Rached, Brent Rouleau, Darren Jerome and, you know…me. And I’m proud as heck to be part of their gang. I’ve learned a lot working with this team, and look forward to learning even more once we hit the stage.
Behind the scenes, Matt Smith has done double-duty, composing and creating a soundscape for the show that is a character unto itself and WILL have audiences talking. It’s utterly incredible, and I can’t wait for people to hear it. Our amazing lighting and sound tech Glen Macintosh has cooked up some sounds and sights that are going to make everything we do so, so much better than we alone could have managed. The costumes by Donna Bourgeault are things of beauty (or horror, when necessary), once again making our jobs as actors that much easier. Add in propmeister Kirsten Saar, Box office guru Carole Johnson, and omnipresent Stage Manager Alain Chauvin , and we’ve got a team I couldn’t be more excited to perform with. And, of course, I’d say the Carleton Tavern itself deserves credit as well, because ain’t no stage in town has more character than ours.
As for myself…well, I’m old and cynical and stuff, and refuse to use words like ‘blessed’ to describe my fortunes (tho I may have lapsed into that in the odd sentimental moment in the past, and slap me if it happens again). But, this is a major step on my stumbling, tumbling path towards becoming…whatever, an actor, a creator, I don’t even rightly know. But this has been glorious hard work that I’ve loved every moment of (except for the moments of supreme frustration, but those pass, and the love remains), and Donnie and Lisa are saying nice things about whatever it is I’ve been doing in rehearsal, and I really DO get an awfully big wrench to lug around. And maybe a fav’rit thing of mine has been Lisa’s constant urging us to be louder, and be heard more. Can you even imagine? To a weirdo loner like me who can’t even ask women out on dates or make phone calls to close friends from utter tongue-twisting, nerve-wracking anxiety, having the freedom…the goddam AUTHORITY, even…to speak out, to talk, to be heard is…well, it’s pretty amazing, I don’t mind saying. I don’t know if I’ll ever make a living at this acting gig (probably not), or even a remotely steady paycheck (thin possibility). I only know I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. Definitely. Or is that too sentimental?
So join me and the Chamber gang, won’t ya, tomorrow at the Black Sheep Inn, or the following three weeks at the Carleton Tavern, for a piece of brash and raw theatre that won’t soon leave your psyche. This will be a show to remember, folks (and if not, then at least the bar is open, am I right?). Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid (and Winston)