It’s been a marvelous season for Irish culture in New York this fall, with the First Irish Theater Festival, the Irish Arts Center Poetry Fest, and Colum McCann’s National Book Award win.
Now, a revival of Eugene O'Neill's “The Emperor Jones” is continuing the trend. The production by the Irish Repertory Theatre and Darren Lee Cole Theatricals has completely sold out, and has been so popular that they've decided to extend its run.
Because the Repertory Theatre had already booked in another production, “The Emperor Jones” is now moving to the SoHo Playhouse instead.
Since its opening in October, O’Neill’s play has had rave reviews in the New York media. In an article titled “Absolutely Corrupt,” the Times described the revival as a “magical production” and said “the fallen emperor has been returned to glory.”
Frank Scheck, theater critic of the New York Post said, “It took guts for the Irish Repertory Theatre to present a production of Eugene O'Neill's 1920 classic "The Emperor Jones" that is faithful to the playwright's original intentions.”
The play is controversial because it tells the tale of a black American man, Brutus Jones, who is charged with murder and imprisoned. He escapes to the Caribbean and makes his way into the jungle, where he sets himself up as the emperor of an imaginary nation. The play explores his psychological unravelling.
Written in 1920 the play had its premier in New York, and it remains challenging because of its charged racial language and themes. In this production critics have singled out John Douglas Thompson, who plays the role of Jones, for particular praise.
The playwright, Eugene O’Neill, was a brilliant man and a bit of a character -- an Irish-American, who was expelled from Princeton and later dropped out of Harvard.
In a description of his career O’Neill said, “Never held a job long. Was either fired quickly or left quickly. Finished my experience as a sailor as able-bodied seaman on the American Line of transatlantic liners. After this, was an actor in vaudeville for a short time, and reporter on a small town newspaper. At the end of 1912 my health broke down and I spent six months in a tuberculosis sanatorium. Began to write plays in the Fall of 1913.”
He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1936.
The extended run of “Emperor Jones” at the SoHo Playhouse starts on December 15th and continues till end of January.