Review: The Hairy Ape at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission


The cast of The Hairy Ape. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Through the ages, a class system has plagued societies and have created haves and have nots. Unfortunately, this is still true today and it’s interesting that a play written in the early part of the 20th century can still hit us in the gut and make us face these problems and questions to which no one seems to have answers. Spotlighters Theatre latest offering, The Hairy Ape by Eugine O’Neill, Directed by Sherrione Brown, touches on these questions and problems and presents them to us quite successfully.
Whether by necessity or choice, Set Design by Sherrionne Brown is simple with set pieces and Scenic Art (with the help of Alan Zemler) and the intimate stage is sparse, but effective to the piece. To help this design, Lighting Design by Al Ramer is flawless. With cleverly insinuated settings, the Lighting Design adds value, especially with the isolation style lighting, highlighting a single actor, and shadow effects effectively representing jail cells and animal cages.
Also adding an authenticity to the production is Sound Design by Sherrionne Brown, Stephy Miller, Alan Zemla, and Fred Brown. From the sounds of the bowels of a luxury steam-liner to the sounds of the jungle, the Sound Design is well thought-out and absolutely adds value to the production as a whole.

The cast of The Hairy Ape. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Adding that extra bit of authenticity is Costume Design by a few folks, including Sherrionne Brown, House of Bankerd, Fuzz Roark, Phelix Blais-Evers, and members of the cast. The Hairy Ape could be considered a period piece, but the costumes transcend time and are accurate for the 1920s but also fit in completely today. The distinction between the classes is very apparent and an interesting, over-the-top, colorful pallet is used to represent the rich and though, odd at first, makes complete sense and drives the point home. Kudos to all the a successful design.
Overall, the technical aspect of this production is impeccable and takes this piece to the next level.

The stokers. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Sherrionne Brown wears a bunch of hats for this production but most importantly, she takes the helm of this piece as its Director and she has knocked it out of the ballpark. She has a complete grasp of this story and text and her comprehension of it is apparent. She keeps the actors moving about stage and the transitions are quick and concise making for great pacing. She should be applauded her assembling of such an able and committed cast, as well. This play has a message to send and Brown does it beautifully having a hand in all aspects of this production.

Thom Eric Sinn as Paddy. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, as stated, this ensemble is strong and works well together. Taking on various, diverse roles Rebecca Clendaniel, John Covaleskie, Daniel Douek, Melanie Eifert, Bob Michel, and Jacob Urtes carry this piece along very nicely transitioning from one character to the next effortlessly and with purpose. Playing Stokers, Rich People, Prisoners, and a plethora of other roles, this small but apt troupe brings these characters to life and move the piece along nicely. Truly being an ensemble piece, every actor on the stage holds his or her own making for a brilliant, overall performance of this intense, moving piece.

Julie Press. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Taking on the role of Mildred, a rich daughter of a steel tycoon who seemingly wants to understand those less fortunate than her, but only ends up insulting them (whether directly or indirectly), and realizes she might be over her head once she is actually faced with “the other side,” is played by Karen Sarliper who does an admirable job in the role but gives a performance that falls a little flat. She portrays the character’s class well, but seems scripted at times, losing some of the poise required of a girl of the upper class. However, she seems comfortable in the role and is confident in her scenes.
Thom Eric Sinn takes on the role of Paddy, an old-timer who is still breaking his back stoking coal in the underbelly of a cruise ship, and he does quite well in this role. Aside from his weak Irish accent (I believe it was supposed to be Irish), he seems to understand his character and portrays him well. His poignant monologues of how things used to be and how things are believably performed and, overall, he gives a strong performance.
A couple of highlights in this production are Julie Press who plays Aunt, the hesitant, old-school, snooty but absolutely poised chaperon to her niece, Mildred, and Phil Gallagher, who takes on the role of Long, a more progressive activist-type character who seems to have his finger on the pulse of the political climate of the time. Press gives 100% to this character giving an authentic and meaningful performance. Though more of a supporting role, Press takes this role and makes it her own making for an impressive portrayal. Along the same lines, Gallagher really delves into his character and gives a realistic portrayal. His dedication to the character is clear and he has a strong, confident stage presence.

Michael Leicht and Karen Starliper. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

The standout in this production is Michael Leicht, who takes on the role of Yank, the rough and gruff New York born stoker who wants to find a place to belong in this world. Leicht seems as though he was born to play this part. His intensity, focus, and commitment to this character allows Leicht to embody him completely. From the start, it’s hard to separate the actor from the character. He commands the stage and is confident in his purpose for this character. His grasp of this character’s trials and tribulations is absolutely apparent and his physicality is on point. He exudes the yearning to belong in Yank and his delivery of the text is natural and poignant. Overall, he gives a phenomenal performance that is certainly the one to watch.

Michael Leicht. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Final thought…The Hairy Ape is an intense, poignant piece of theater that touches on class distinctions, nature vs. nurture, and trying to find out where we belong in the world. Written in the 1920s, this story is still relevant today as we all are trying to find where we fit in and break the glass ceiling of class structures. This production is well put-together with a strong, dedicated ensemble that is not afraid to get in the faces of the audience. The performances are moving and authentic and pull the audience in from the start. With great technical aspects such as lights and sound to help tell the story, this is definitely not a production you want to miss this season.
This is what I thought of SpotlightersTheatre’s production of The Hairy Ape… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
 The Hairy Ape will run through November 19 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.
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Review: Marx in Soho at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 1 hours and 35 minutes with no intermission


Karl Marx. Credt: Public Domain

If I were to invite any deceased historic figure to dinner, Karl Marx would not have been my first choice. Actually, he probably wouldn’t have even crossed my mind but after experiencing Spotlighters Theatre latest offering of Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn and directed by Sherrionne Brown and starring Phil Gallagher, I think Mr. Marx could possibly make my Top Five (of whom currently includes Mozart, Joan Crawford, Karen Carpenter, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Disney, but I haven’t a clue of who would be bumped).
I admit… I walked in thinking this piece thinking it was going to be uber-political and argue the pros of Marxism and Communism and, with the political climate being what it is in the country at the moment, I rolled my eyes and settled in for the long haul. I can also admit my thinking was incorrect. Though this piece did touch on a many of Karl Marx’s ideas, it was not so much political as it was a piece showing Marx in a different light. He is usually thought of as a revolutionary, trouble maker, or rabble rouser but Zinn’s piece expressed his softer side; his life as a family man and his love and adoration for his wife and children (of which only three lived into adulthood). It shows a Marx who can admit when he is wrong and came back from the dead to express to the world that his ideas are different to the ideals of Communism that Lenin spouted out and that he wasn’t so stubborn that he couldn’t debate (sometimes heatedly) different ideas with friends and colleagues. Zinn manages to reveal Marx’s positive achievements rather than concentrate on the negative connotations of his life and work.
I certainly have my own ideals, politically and otherwise, as we all do, but I’m glad I was able to attend this production of Marx in Soho as it enlightened me, made me think, and reminded me that there are many different angles to folks that we must consider before passing any type of judgment. This piece wasn’t a lesson on Marxism or Communism, but a look into the life of a man who had his own ideas and way of looking at the world and his courage to express them, regardless of any adversity. Zinn manages to balance out the history and the entertainment in his script and it blends together beautifully.

Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Spotlighters is a unique space, to say the least. It’s theatre in the round, which is always challenging and to add to that challenge, they have four pillars on each corner of the stage of which they have to contend but Spotlighters has not disappointed, yet! The production teams for each show manage to use the space to maximum efficiency, and this production is no different. The Set Design by Director Sherrionne Brown is minimal, with a desk, a couple of chairs, and a stool, but it all comes together perfectly. It’s the set decorations of old photos of historic figures such and folks from Marx’s life add a sense of familiarity, like we’re sitting in Marx’s parlor or study, as a guest or old friend, listening to him as he talks about his ideas and writings.
Lighting Design by Fuzz Roark was very subtle but that’s exactly what is needed in this piece. His use of brightness levels are barely noticeable but add depth to the performance as the lighting seems to change with Marx’s changing moods from fiery revolutionist to loving husband and doting father and add great production value to the piece. The imitation thunder and lightning are perfect transitions and stop signs for the character of Karl Marx when he gets a little too saucy or political.
Director Sherrione Brown uses this space wisely and keeps her actor moving fluidly as to not ignore any part of the audience that surrounds him. Her guidance, along with the natural instincts of Phil Gallagher, brought Karl Marx to life right before my eyes and the nuances of the character, including the look, gestures, and facial expressions set me at east, as an audience member looking in. The Set Design complimented the performance and Brown is to be commended for her thought-provoking work on this piece.

Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography


Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Phil Gallagher as the titular character of Karl Marx is an absolute joy to watch. Performing in a biographical piece has its own set of challenges but Gallagher completely nails this role and gives an outstanding performance. From the moment he steps on stage, one cannot help but notice the striking resemblance Gallagher has to a young(er) Marx (a little different from the common white bushy bearded, older Marx). The Costume Design by Andrew Malone is spot on and very appropriate for the time in which Marx lived and for this piece. Gallagher is very comfortable both in his wardrobe and on the stage, having a strong command and he moves smoothly around making sure he gives attention to all sides of his audience. To be honest, Gallagher has completely changed the way I envisioned Karl Marx that was formed from what I’ve researched about him and from the stern photographs I’ve seen. Gallagher’s very authentic performance makes Marx approachable and downright likeable and though this may have something to do with the script, it is mostly because of the friendly feel I get from Gallagher. He is so natural in this role, there were many times I completely forgot there was a script involved. His German accent is on point and he, impressively, holds it throughout the entire performance, adding a realism to the performance. Gallagher seemed to have really understood the man he was portraying and it showed through in his strong, confident performance. Major kudos to Phil Gallagher for this exceptional performance as Karl Marx.

Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Final thought… Marx in Soho is a show that makes me see things from a different angle and appreciate another view. In these crazy times of this crazy United States Presidential election, I’m glad that I was reminded that this is very important. This piece portrays another side of a man who is commonly seen in a negative light and makes him more familiar and approachable. Whatever ideals you may have, Marx in Soho is an enlightening, provocative look into the life of a man who, in the end, just wanted the world to be a little better for everyone.
This is what I thought of this production of Marx in Soho.… what do you think?
Another point of view: The Bad Oracle’s review of Marx in Soho
Marx in Soho will play through September 18 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.