The Hairy Ape


I have created a category called, “Blast from the Past” where I will share with you projects from my past.  The first piece is an illustration I did for Marin Theater company for a performance in 2001 of the Eugene O’Neill’s, “The Hairy Ape,” directed by Lee Sankowich. I worked with Karen Koster and Ellie Mednick for art direction.

I started the project with a read through of the play.  It was really well written and a really interesting story — specifically the journey of the main character.  It’s almost a one-man show.


Here is the synopsis from Wikipedia: “The Hairy Ape (1922) is an expressionist play by Eugene O’Neill about a brutish, unthinking laborer known as Yank as he searches for a sense of belonging in a world controlled by the rich. At first Yank feels secure as he stokes the engines of an oceanliner, and is highly confident in his physical power over the ship’s engines.However, when the weak but rich daughter of an industrialist in the steel business refers to him as a “filthy beast,” Yank undergoes a crisis of identity. He leaves the ship and wanders into Manhattan, only to find he does not belong anywhere—neither with the socialites on Fifth Avenue, nor with the labor organizers on the waterfront. Finally he is reduced to seeking a kindred being with the gorilla in the zoo and dies in the animal’s embrace.”

I studied the period, looked at the expressionist german painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and a lot of scrap of actor Marlon Brando.

kirchner_self-portrait_with_model Marlon Brando

Here are two sketches I sent with some type dropped in.

AlexisMahrus_HairyApeSketch1 AlexisMahrus_HairyApeSketch2

Then they shared that the director had cast an african american actor for the lead part.


Eventually they sent me a headshot of the actor and asked that I paint his portrait.  By that point I was already working on the final painting, so I had to splice in the new drawing right on the canvas.  Below is the final program that was created, in addition to postcards, newspaper ads and web images.

I was invited to opening night of the play and had great seats.  The performance was amazing — truly exhilarating, just as I imagined it when reading the story and making the illustration.  Great job, all around.




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