Philobiblon: Theatre Review: <i>The Emperor Jones</i> at The Gate

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Theatre Review: The Emperor Jones at The Gate

That a play written in 1920 should still feel entirely fresh and relevant 85 years later is either the sign of a great drama, or of a failure of the human race to progress. In the case of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, both statements are true.

When The Emperor (Paterson Joseph) swaggers muscularly into the Gate Theatre, revealing within seconds the nature of his regime, built entirely on brutality and bombast, recent parallels are obvious. Robert Mugabe sweeps into mind, then Ceascescu, Mobutu ... the list could go on and on.

And as America struggles to find "leadership material" in Iraq, O'Neill's play presents a society entirely corrupted by the exercise of absolute, violent power. There are no heroes here - it is the power of the Emperor's own conscience that will really get to him.

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