The only play that Peggy and I have ever walked out on was “Desire Under the Elms” by Eugene O’Neill. It was a production by Tacoma Actors Guild, while they were still in the old St Leo’s High School. The staging and the acting were good, but the story line involved Greek tragedy in a New England setting. If we had been in the front row, we might have at least stayed until intermission. However, sitting in the back of the auditorium it made our escape easier. We were not alone in leaving.
I was familiar with Eugene O’Neill from acting class at Clover Park High School. In our text book I read about the Expressionistic play, “The Emperor Jones” staring Paul Robeson on stage and in the 1933 film. The story line concerns a railroad porter who attempts a swindle and then ends up killing a gambler and finds himself on a chain gang. He escapes and ends up on a boat headed to an island in the Caribbean where he bluffs his way to becoming the emperor of the island.
“Eugene Gladstone O’Neill (October 16, 1888 – November 27, 1953) was an American playwright and Nobel laureate in literature. His poetically titled plays were among the first to introduce into U.S. drama techniques of realism earlier associated with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg.” – Wikipedia
Here is a review comment about Eugene O’Neill: “Love the plays, great characters and plots, but I have a hard time getting past the racism and sexism. I get it that it is a period piece and this is part of our history, but it makes some of the works (both popular and lesser known hard to read at times).” – Peter Sprengelmeyer
The Black Emperor of Broadway, a 2020 film release, tells the story of Charles S. Gilpin, the first Black actor to star on the Broadway stage. Gilpin (November 20, 1878 – May 6, 1930) went from minstrel shows to an all-black theatre company and then he appeared in the 1919 premier of John Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln before landing the lead role of Brutus Jones in The Emperor Jones, which premiered in 1920. That year he became the first black American to receive The Drama League’s annual award for the American theatre.
Charles S. Gilpin is played by British film star Shaun Parkes. I thought he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him until I looked up his credits. He stared in Small Axe-Mangrove, the fantastic series of London’s racial turmoil of the 60s and 70s. Parkes did a great job as a black restaurant owner targeted by racially motivated cops for made up violations.
As with most actors, Gilpin (Shaun Parkes as Gilpin, seen here with Nija Okoro as Gilpin’s wife, Florence) had numerous jobs from a printer, a barber, a boxing trainer, to a railroad porter.
The director wanted Paul Robeson as the Emperor, but Robeson didn’t like the way the script portrayed blacks.
After a clash of wills, the actor Jasper Deeter (played by Nick Moran) is sent to convince Eugene O’Neill (played by John Hensley) to use Gilpin.
Watch the trailer – imdb.com/video/vi590986265?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1
I’m going have to watch “Black Emperor” a couple more times. I saw in the credits that writers W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes were characters in the film, also. This is a great film for discussion.
For more information on the film visit – imdb.com/title/tt9612892/