O’Neill Festival honors Paul Robeson

This year’s Eugene O’Neill Festival in Danville will honor Paul Robeson, the legendary African-American actor who died in 1976 at age 77,

The festival begins today (Thursday, Sept. 18) and continues through Saturday, Sept. 20.

The centerpiece of the festival is O’Neill’s rarely produced All God’s Chillun Got Wings. Robeson starred in the 1924 debut of the play, playing the black husband of an abusive white woman who, resenting her husband’s skin color, destroys his promising career as a lawyer.

The play caused an uproar even before it opened. One critic noted that the play had “almost as much publicity as a murder…(but) instead of causing a riot, it was greeted with cheers and loud whistlings.”

Starring as the husband and wife are Michael J. Asberry and Alexandra Matthew. Eric Frashier Hayes, a member of the Eugene O’Neill Foundation board, directs. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. tonight and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Village Theater, 233 Front St., Danville. Tickets are $30 general, $10 students. Call 925-820-1818 or visit www.eugeneoneill.org for information.

The Robeson-O’Neill connection will be further explored through several free events, including a screening of O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, the 1933 screen adaption of the play with Robeson reprising the role he created onstage. The movie is at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 20 at the Village Theater in downtown Danville.

An overview of O’Neill’s life, works and impact on American theater will be from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Town Meeting Hall, 201 Front St., Danville. Dan Cawthon, an actor, educator and O’Neill scholar, is the lecturer.

Also, “A Hero for All Time,” an exhibit of memorabilia related to Robeson and his career is open from 1 to 7 p.m. today through Sept. 21 in the Pioneer Art Gallery, 524 Hertz Ave., Danville.

An open house and informal, self-guided tours of Tao House at the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, a part of the National Park Service, will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20. Park service vans will depart from teh Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave., at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. (Private vehicles are not allowed at the site).

For a complete schedule of events, visit www.eugeneoneill.org.

Here’s Robeson singing “Going Home” from a Carnegie Hall concert in 1958 (he was about 60).

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