The Emperor Jones Closing (Theater and Galleries) Member Picks New Review (Theater and Comedy) Recommended The Short List (Theater)

When: Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 11 2009

In this Wooster Group version of Eugene O'Neill's 1920 drama, Brutus Jones is the platonic ideal of black stereotypes: a cartoon con man with a big, slow, lazy laugh and a toothy grin, googly eyes, and lots of low cunning, who drawls on about "all dem fool, bush niggers" he’s flimflammed into making him the king of their Caribbean island. He's also Kate Valk, a white actress in blackface. Talk about your alienation effects. Valk pushes every roll-eyed leer and yassah! inflection to 100 on the Kingfish meter. But she never attempts to inhabit the character in any conventional sense. Instead, under Elizabeth LeCompte's deconstructive direction, she plays Jones as a suite of mannerisms, the way a Kabuki actor might--and when she has no action or line to perform, simply drops the role like a musician waiting for her next solo. Valk's easy in/easy out approach makes the point immediately clear: race and gender are themselves suites of mannerisms, enforced by culture. Of course, the problem with immediate clarity is that it can leave an audience bored for 59 minutes out of an hour-long play. LeCompte and company don't permit that. With its video imagery, eccentric costumes, and strange, lovely dancing, the piece remains visually fascinating throughout. And the tale of Jones's very nearly literal dark night of the soul unfolds compellingly. It's part of the Goodman's ongoing O'Neill festival, A Global Exploration: Eugene O'Neill in the 21st Century. --Tony Adler

Price: $45

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