The 17th Eugene O'Neill Festival is set to kick off this week with the productions of "Seascape" and "The Emperor Jones," along with a slate of other events, in recognition of the famous playwright and the National Park Service's 100th anniversary.
Edward Albee's play "Seascape" opens this Friday for nine performances at the Village Theatre in downtown Danville, and Eugene O'Neill's "The Emperor Jones" will premiere on Sept. 23 for six performances at the Old Barn at Tao House, located within the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site in Danville.
"Seascape," a 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning play being presented locally by Role Players Ensemble and directed by George Maguire, showcases the existential journey of a couple during their lazy day at the beach where they encounter some strange and improbable fellow beachcombers, providing an examination of the real meaning and significance of life itself.
When O'Neill wrote "The Emperor Jones" in 1920, he made history with an African-American portraying the leading role in a Broadway play and established himself as a successful playwright. The play blends history and realism as it tells the story of Brutus Jones, a troubled man who outruns his fears and escapes to a Caribbean island where he deems himself emperor.
Eric Fraisher Hayes, artistic program director for the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, said he thinks "The Emperor Jones" and "Seascape" are both examples of a pivotal change in American drama, and embody the festival's theme "(R)EVOLUTION."
"'Seascape' and 'The Emperor Jones' represent both an evolution in American drama as well as a revolution," Hayes said in a statement. "In both plays the central characters find themselves in unexpected situations that challenge their senses and the view of the world about them."
For tickets and a full production schedule for "Seascape" and "The Emperor Jones," visit the Village Theatre's website or contact the foundation at 820-1818.
The festival continues in September with a number of events including a park hike, several special centennial exhibits, preview talks at local libraries and a screening of Ric Burns PBS "American Experience" documentary about Eugene O'Neill.
The Centennial "Find Your Park" Hike is set to take place Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. in celebration of the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. Guests are invited to join the park service and East Bay regional park rangers at Front Street Park (across from Danville Library on Front Street) and hike up to Tao House.
Burns' "American Experience" will be shown on Sept. 8 at 7 p.m at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Danville.
Centennial exhibits will be set up at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and Tao House, showcasing O'Neill's career and celebrating the park service's anniversary.
Additionally, the festival will feature a staged reading of Adrienne Pender's new play, "N", which tells the story of O'Neill and his relationship with actor Charles Gilpin who originated the title role in "The Emperor Jones." "N" will be shown at Old Barn on the Eugene O'Neill site Sept. 29 at 8 p.m.
For more information about the Eugene O'Neill Festival and its events, visit the foundation's website.