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The Emperor Jones
March 28, 2006 10:46 AM   Subscribe

The Emperor Jones was a landmark drama, not only in conception but also in production: a black actor, Charles Gilpin, was permitted for the first time to enact the leading role in a New York drama.” James Earl Jones and collaborators discuss and rehearse a later production. Currently Elizabeth LeCompte directs Kate Valk, a middle-aged white woman in blackface, in a contemporary production from the Wooster Group. They’ve courted this type of controversy before. The NYTimes loved the show, this review isn’t as glowing.
posted by jrb223 (8 comments total)

 
Two more opinions (note the quote in the first link from an essay by WEB Dubois included in the program to both the 1920’s and current production)
posted by jrb223 at 10:47 AM on March 28, 2006


Previous Wooster Group.
posted by jrb223 at 10:48 AM on March 28, 2006


Previous Blackface/Minstrelsy.
posted by jrb223 at 10:49 AM on March 28, 2006


I saw the Wooster Group do this many years ago. They did call it "sketches" or "work in progress," I bet they've made a lot of progress in that time. It was great.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2006


Gilpin was a latecomer for a black actor to play a major role:
http://www.netc.net.au/locallit/ira/
this guy beat him by many7 years as the first black actor in major role in American drama
posted by Postroad at 11:32 AM on March 28, 2006


Not my favorite O'Neill play but I'm always up for a different interpretation.
I might check that out before it closes.

Shit, it's in friggin DUMBO!
Does that mean I have to wear ripped-poser-black to get in?
(At least it's not in 'Jersey)
posted by HTuttle at 11:50 AM on March 28, 2006


Hey now, there are worse reasons to go to Dumbo, for the record, i think that the NYtimes review of this show is spot on, and that it just might be the best theater I've seen in my 6 years in NYC. Thanks Postroad, for the correction.
posted by jrb223 at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2006


I first saw Emperor Jones well over 10 years ago back when Willem Dafoe played Smithers... I keep wondering why it's getting attention now in particular. Back in 93 I even saw it play in Germany -- which is hyper-sensitive to issues of race and ethics -- and no one raised an eyebrow (at least as regards controversy). I wonder what's different about 2006.

It might be helpful to learn about Bertholt Brecht's early/mid-century ideas of the Verfremdungseffekt and epic theatre if you're interested in the show.

Although the Wooster Group only use Brecht's theatre as one point of departure, Emperor Jones is one of the clearest applications of those particular ideas.

Brecht, however, believed that theatre was instrumental... I'm not sure that's a position that anyone would be willing to take these days. No one is going to leave Dumbo thinking that it's time to take action against racism. More likely, they'll go grab a pizza.
posted by cloudscratcher at 2:58 AM on March 29, 2006


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