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).

Dog Bytes: `Follies,’ `Blood Mirage,’ Aurora Borealis

As ever, so many interesting things going on in Bay Area theater:

– The Oakland East Bay Symphony is gearing up for a glittery concert production of Follies, May 16 and 18 at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. The cast includes Val Diamond (Beach Blanket Babylon), Sharon McNight, Rita Moreno, Clark Sterling and the Berkeley Broadway Singers (among others). You won’t want to miss that (visit www.oebs.org for info). But before then, there’s going to be a “Forum on themes of Follies from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at the Veteran’s Memorial Building, 200 Grand Avenue, Oakland. Admission is free, and it’s sponsored by the OEBS and Stagebridge and the City of Oakland Life Enrichment Programs. The keynote speaker is Ted Chapin, author of Everything was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies (a fantastic book and must reading for anyone who cares about musical theater) and the president and executive director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization. Panelists include Lucha Corpi, Bill Bell, Bonnie Bell, Glen Pearson and Barbara Oliver. John Kendall Bailey serves as moderator, and there will be performances and live music.

– The Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House (the wonderful national park on the grounds of the Danville home O’Neill shared with his wife Carlotta around the time he was writing, among others, Long Day’s Journey Into Night — if you’ve never been to this park, you owe it to yourself to make a visit and take a tour) is launching the 2008 Playwrights Theatre series. Opening the series is a new work by San Francisco writer/director/actor Jeffrey Hartgraves: Blood Mirage, the story of three adult sisters called together by their aging mother to attend a funeral and experience some shocking revelations. Blood Mirage is at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 4 in the Old Barn at Tao House. Also on the May 4 bill is Revelations, a series of scenes from O’Neill plays in which women are the principal characters. Local actor Karen Grassle (of “Little House on the Prairie” fame) is featured.
O’Neill’s Welded is at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 18. The play was written in 1922-23 and concerns a successful playwright and his wife, each seeking comfort in another relationship (he with a prostitute, she with a family friend). O’Neill wrote about the play: “I feel that I’m getting back as far as it is possible in modern times to get back, to the religious in the theater. The only way we can get religion back is through an exultation over the truth, through an exultant acceptance of life.”
Tickets are $25 (price includes transportation from Danville to Tao House — there’s no parking in the park). Call 925-820-1818 or visit www.eugeneoneill.org for information.

– Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company holds its annual fundraiser, Aurora Borealis, on Monday, May 5 at The Pavilion at Scott’s Seafood Restaurant in Oakland’s Jack London Square. Tickets (from $216 to $316) include cocktails, a three-course dinner and live entertainment by Maureen McVerry and Billy Philadelphia (co-stars in the Aurora’s recent musical romp Sex). The live auction includes a December holiday trip to Puerto Vallarta, lunch with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik, a week in New York, a private cabaret night with Philadelphia and his singer wife Meg Mackay. Funds raised at the event support mainstage productions, education programs and the Global Age Project new works program.
Call 510-843-4042 ext. 378 or visit www.auroratheatre.org for information.