Abstract

ABSTRACT:

While working for the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago in 1937, leftist playwright Shirley Graham created a “Negro adaptation” of The Hairy Ape that altered O’Neill’s script and inserted an entirely new scene. The play was never produced because O’Neill denied Graham’s request to perform it and disparaged the work as an example of “freak theatre where white plays are faked into black plays.” This article looks closely at Graham’s adaptation in order to consider its significance, arguing that the race-determined changes Graham made to O’Neill’s script do not distort the play but elicit a layered African American presence. As a tool for understanding this presence, this article adopts a critical approach practiced in lectures delivered in 1990 by Toni Morrison, which restore legitimacy to Graham’s play and offer a model for fresh interpretation of O’Neill’s oeuvre.

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