Thursday, September 29, 2011

Aimless Reading, The O's: Part 7.1 (Eugene O'Neill)

O'Neill, Eugene
Anna Christie, The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course on American theater.

I am thinking of Great Garbo as Anna Christie, Paul Robeson as the Emperor Jones. I've seen both films within the last few years.

I remember once going to see a staging of The Emperor Jones in New York by the Wooster group. I think Willem Dafoe's wife runs the company. Dafoe himself often stars in their plays. Their version of O'Neill's play did a kind of postmodern deconstruction of the colonial and imperialist themes running through it.

To say the turned it inside out is understatement.

Everyone dressed in Kabuki regalia, as I recall. All the movement was highly stylized. Three or four television sets, including one at center stage, faced the audience. Dafoe played Smithers, dancing around the stage like a dainty samurai with a cockney accent. He mumbled most of his lines. The Emperor Jones was played by a woman in Japanese whiteface.

For much of the play, or at least at the beginning, I can't quite recall, she faced a camera, her back to the audience. The image of her face was projected from the various television sets in negative, turning her whiteface into blackface. It was a pretty stunning performance, I recall, but when they started bringing the sound techs and light techs into it, I got a little annoyed. Brecht is Brecht, but I prefer my illusions.

Well, I just found this little video at their website. Turns out the Emperor Jones was played by Kate Valk, a white woman, in blackface, dressed in Kabuki dress. Her face in negative must have been projected as white. Hmm. Inside out, for sure.

Here's a clip with valk and Dafoe:

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