The Emperor Jones
The Annex
February 2 - 12, 2006
Thursday - Saturday 7:30pm
Sunday - 2:30pm & 7:30pm
Tickets $18
Written Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Arthur Adair

Box office 212.475.7710

Arthur Adair directs Eugene O'Neill's "The Emperor Jones" for Black History Month, and re-envisions the play's legacy, which is racially charged, with purity: without pop culture or irony. What has evolved is an experiment in recasting the play with a Greek mold.

"The Emperor Jones" (1920) depicts an American black man who has escaped from jail and landed on a Caribbean island, where he has deposed the reigning ruler and set up a miniature empire, becoming rich by manipulating the superstitions of his subjects. The drama portrays Jones' attempt to escape his realm once his people have risen against him. Fleeing through dense forest, with the drums of his infuriated subjects in his ears, he becomes victim of his own terror, his assuredness stripped away. The character struck director Arthur Adair as a tragic hero similar to Oedipus or Prometheus, insofar as he is undone by his own doing, but in the process achieves a greater understanding of his true self.

Seeing "The Emperor Jones" in Greek terms is not a widely held notion, but not too far-fetched. After all, we are talking about the author of "Mourning Becomes Electra," whose plays are widely suffused with Greek themes. Adair was fascinated by the way Jones takes responsibility for his crimes (an act not widely embraced by most leaders today) and prays for mercy, citing his inability to control his emotional states and instincts as his downfall. Jones faces his abuse of power by asking repeatedly, "What have I done wrong?", and comes to sees himself as a poor sinner. However, the play's comment is not on leadership, but personal responsibility and the inherent nature of man. It's in our nature to do good, evil or both, Adair points out. As Jones' imagination goes ever-deeper into Black history--with images of Slave Ships and Witch Doctors--he resolves not to give into evil.

Sheila Dabney plays a one-woman chorus, representing Nature, Justice, Human Consciousness and guiding the Emperor through his right of passage. Adair has adapted O'Neill's stage directions liberally into the spoken playscript. This enables Dabney--who also plays an Old Native Woman, an Old Soul and an Old Native Chief--to establish the settings and imagery for the play and to further enhance the oral storytelling tradition of the Greek theatre. Dabney is an accomplished orator. Adair remarks that it's faith in the audience and the evocative power of O'Neill's stage directions that enables him to rely, not on "cheap spectacle," but on Dabney's powerful voice and acting to provide play's visual imagery.

The play is distilled into a performance by three actors, with Xander Gaines as Jones, Sheila Dabney as the chorus, and Brian P. Glover as the degenerate Englishman, Henry Smithers.

Noting that Jones' part appears to be written in a period version of Negro dialect, Adair says this struck him as an alienation effect, which is countered by the Cockney dialect of the white Smithers. So he deliberately sought to preserve the somewhat dated and sometimes controversial Negro dialect, noting how it changes with the essence of the character, who is played with dignity and elegance by Xander Gaines. "What comes out," says Adair, "is a character of integrity and nobility who falls from power into grace."

Arthur Adair (Director/Lighting/Set Design) is a resident artist of La MaMa E.T.C. His recent directing projects at La MaMa include his own original translation of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters," a theatrical installation and three site traveling production which inspired good notices and popular favor this past June. He has also created two previous original theatrical installations at La MaMa, "Sound of the Sun" (2002), a 52 member wordless International Opera, and "SSS-t-o-n-e-ddd," a one-man oration, musically accompanied, on war and America, performed at the height of the pre-Iraqi war tension. He has just finished directing Bertolt Brecht's "The Private Life of the Master Race" for CUNY Queensborough Community College and is scheduled to direct a staged reading of Rochelle Owens' "The Queen of Greece" in March. He received an M.F.A. in Theatre Directing from CUNY Brooklyn College.

Xander Gaines (Emperor Brutus Jones) holds a BFA in Theater performance from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. His plays include "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Shadowboxer" and "Carousel." He has been a featured vocalist/MC for international DJ/Producer Gomi and a doorman at premier New York nightclubs (Crobar, APT, Maritime) and countless FashionWeek events.

Sheila Dabney (An Old Native Woman/ An Old Soul / An Old Native Chief) has played a range of roles from St. Joan to Medea. She has performed in Julie Taymor's "The Transposed Heads" as Thomas Mann, Taymor's "Taming of The Shrew" as Kate and Maria Irene Fornes' "Sarita" as Sarita (Obie award). She won a Drama-Logue Award as Titania in the jazz adaptation by Max Roach and George Ferencz of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." She was Athena in Peter Seller's "Ajax." In La MaMa's "Oedipus," she was Jocasta with Min Tanaka. She also appeared in La MaMa's "Conjure Woman" by Cecil McBee. She has worked with The Living Theatre, The Talking Band and Cement Inc. She is a graduate of the Edith Skinner Institute, The Julliard School of Drama and a proud member of The Great Jones Repertory Company.

Brian P. Glover (Henry Smithers) attended Boston University's School of Theatre Art and studied with Larry Moss and at the Groundlings. He was last seen at La MaMa E.T.C. in "Balletto Stilletto," A Watson Arts Project, and as Pontius Pilate in Dario D'Ambrosi's "The Pathological Passion of the Christ. " Glover may be seen in the independent film "C.Y.C.", which is to be showcased at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

Wendy Meiling Yang (Costume Design) opened her flagship atelier and shop, Maiden Hong Kong, in Williamsburg last fall. Other recent endeavors include costume design for Major Bang or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb (now playing at St. Anne's Warehouse), Off Broadway play Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy, David Neuman’s Hansel und Gretel at NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing, assistant costume design & building for Big Dance Theater, and production design work on Nightmare: NYC’s Original Haunted House and the short film "The Pied Piper of Manhattan".

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