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: HOAX presented by the encounter at 14 Karat Cabaret at Maryland Art Place (MAP)

by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Baltimore is certainly known for its quirkiness (some would say weirdness) and that’s exactly why I adore this city! There’s a little join called Maryland Art Place (MAP) down on West Saratoga Street that I had never heard of but am certainly glad I have now. At the moment, in the 14 Karat Cabaret, a space that was once a basement but is now charming and, yes, quirky performance space, MAP is presenting a brand new work entitled HOAX, by Annelise Montone in collaboration with Magician Brian M. Kehoe with Consulting Director Deirdre McAllister and this is a show not to be missed this summer!
I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world but every road has always led back to dear old Baltimore and though I was born and raised in this fine town, there are still nooks and crannies that I’ve yet to explore. MAP and the 14 Karat Cabaret was one of those nooks and I was delighted of my new discovery and I was honored to witness a piece of theatre that, on a regular evening, I may not have given a second thought because of the style. I’m glad I gave this a second thought and decided to attend. I would call HOAX part experimental theatre, part magic show, and part TED Talks but entirely entertaining and authentic. The writing is strong and the performances are powerful.

Annelise Monton as Sarah Swanson and Brian M. Kehoe as Maxwell Fink. Photo Credit:

Annelise Monton as Sarah Swanson and Brian M. Kehoe as Maxwell Fink. Photo Credit:

HOAX is about Maxwell Fink and Sarah Swanson (if that’s their real names), two con artists who have come together to pull back the veil on your everyday cons and to warn the audience. Maxwell, with his clever sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors wants to quit the con business and very much wants the audience to understand the art of confidence so we won’t be scammed again. Sarah, on the other hand, is a bit more apprehensive, but goes along with Maxwell out of pure loyalty, being the ever-reliable assistant.
Walking into the space, I knew I was in for an interesting and entertaining evening. The space has the feel of a black box theatre, with just about every surface painted black but it is decorated with mismatched chachkies and eclectic memorabilia from previous shows and presentations and has a very down-home feeling. At first, I felt out of place and didn’t know what to expect as I’m accustomed to actual theatres or theatre spaces with stages, but quickly became more at ease and comfortable because of the friendly, charming atmosphere. The joint even has a cash bar (water, wine, and lemonade), which is always fun!
Annelise Montone as Sarah Swanson, Brian M. Kehoe as Maxwell Fink, and audience volunteers. Photo Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Annelise Montone as Sarah Swanson, Brian M. Kehoe as Maxwell Fink, and audience volunteers. Photo Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

As for the actual production, the stage is constructed in a corner of the space and part of the space is blocked off by simple drapery that is absolutely appropriate for this show. Scenic Design by Harley Winkler is absolutely spot on with gold drapery and rolling boxes that serve as storage and seating for the cast of two. The set and space in general gave me the feeling I was sitting in a side show attraction at a carnival in a by-gone era with a hint of creepiness but overpowering feeling of curiosity that pushed the hint of creepiness to the back of my mind. Lighting Design by Alec Lawson added to the curious, strange atmosphere with simple but brilliant lighting, using the lighting already in the space as well as small lamps at the edges of the stage, almost like foot lighting that shines an eerie up-lighting that adds value to the production.
Annelise Montone and Brian Kehoe. Photo Credit:

Annelise Montone and Brian Kehoe. Photo Credit:

The Sound Design of this production deserves a shout out, as well! For not having a live band, the music choices were practically perfect from the old songs, the carnival sounds, the calliope music, the canned laughter – everything! Everything fit like a glove and the cues were absolutely flawless and I’m assuming Stage Manger Stephy Miller has something to do with those cues and should be commended for her work!
The costumes for each character are very suitable and period, and don’t take away from the performances but add to the production as a whole. A checkered blazer and oxford shoes for Maxwell and a striking red dress for Sarah add that extra bit of authenticity to these characters.
Brian Kehoe as Maxwell Fink with Audience Volunteers. Photo Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Brian Kehoe as Maxwell Fink with Audience Volunteers. Photo Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Also adding major value to the production is something of which I am not a huge fan, usually, and that is the audience participation. Again, I’m not crazy about breaking that “fourth wall” whether I’m on stage or in the audience during a production. However, using audience participation worked perfectly with this production. Since it’s part magic show, of course, the audience has to be involved and that’s an aspect that made this production shine – the total emersion of the audience. We are right there with Maxwell and Sarah and they are talking to us, not at us.
Brian M. Kehoe as Maxwell Fink. Photo Credit:

Brian M. Kehoe as Maxwell Fink. Photo Credit:

Brian M. Kehoe takes on the role of Maxwell Fink, a con artist who is on the top of his game but wants to repent and is desperate to teach the audience how to spot and avoid a scam. Kehoe’s performance is brilliant and flawless from the moment he interrupts the audience having their drinks in the bar area until the very last lines of the show. According to his website,, he is a “magician/lecturing conjurer/actor” and he ain’t lyin’! He’s certainly every one of those things. He is natural and comfortable onstage and though he might have a small stature, he has a huge, confident presence that commands the stage. Throughout the entire show, as Maxwell, Kehoe is talking to his audience and interacting, giving a complete sense of inclusion. If reading directly from a script, he seems as though he’s just having a conversation with his audience and if going off of an outline, he doesn’t falter once. His interaction with the audience, when he’s asking for volunteers, is not pompous but, just like a con man, very friendly, and his volunteers want to cooperate. His emotion when talking about his need to redeem himself is poignant and authentic, making the audience feel for him and even root for him to find his redemption. Overall, Kehoe’s performance in HOAX was a joy to watch and I’m excited to see more from him.
Annelise Montone as Sarah Swanson. Photo Credit:

Annelise Montone as Sarah Swanson. Photo Credit:

The role of Sarah Swanson, the discontented but loyal (or so it seems) assistant/partner is taken on by author Annelise Montone and her performance is absolutely first-rate from her intense entrance, pretending to be Mary Toft, a woman in the early 1700s who claimed to give birth to rabbits or rabbit parts, anyway, to her snarky interactions with Kehoe as Maxwell, to her interaction with the audience. Not once did she lose character of the irate, somewhat fed-up Sarah Swanson, who is tolerating Maxwell Fink’s obsession with going legit but doesn’t necessarily want to repent herself and has accepted what is and is willing to continue conning out of what I assume is survival. I lost a few of her lines due to lack of projection, but missed nothing that threw me off course and, in such an intimate space, it still worked out nicely. Her bright, intense red dress and baby blue period shoes added to her character giving Montone a perfect look to go along with her wonderful performance.
Brian Kehoe and Annelise Montone. Photo Credit:

Brian Kehoe and Annelise Montone. Photo Credit:

A highlight for both actors is their chemistry onstage. Just like old friends or frienemies, Kehoe and Montone seems to completely understand their individual characters and how they relate to each other resulting in a beautiful duet between the both of them.
HOAX will also be presented at Baltimore Fringe this year, giving you yet another chance to check out this show.
Final thought… HOAX is an intense, powerful piece that engages the audience every step of the way. The lesson of how to spot and avoid a scam is important and relevant and the performances were brilliant. Having experience with more traditional theatre in more traditional spaces, I didn’t know what to expect with HOAX but I was in no way disappointed and recommend seeing this production. Don’t be one of those suckers born every minute that Mr. Barnum spoke about and miss this show!
This is what I thought of this production of HOAX… Do you have any thoughts?
HOAX will play through August 20, Friday-Saturday at 8pm at The 14 Karat Cabaret at Maryland Art Place (MAP), 218 W. Saratoga Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, contact or call 443-681-9229 for assistance or purchase them online.