Ends Apr 23

The Emperor Jones

Members say: Great acting, Great staging, Absorbing, Intense, Riveting
12 reviews
32 reviews

Irish Repertory Theatre revives Eugene O’Neill’s groundbreaking play about the rise and fall of Brutus Jones, a despot who ascends the throne using lies, intimidation, and the politics of fear.... Read more

After breaking out of prison in the U.S., Jones sets himself up as monarch of a Caribbean island. When the Natives rebel after years of exploitation, Jones' journey into darkness becomes a terrifying psychological portrayal of power, fear, and madness. With his demons in heavy pursuit, the Emperor is forced to confront not only the mortal sins of his past but also the depravities against his ancestors—all in search of forgiveness and salvation. Irish Rep last mounted this classic but controversial play in 2009. This production features the same director and designers but a new cast.

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Reviews (44)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score


“A nightmarish and hauntingly beautiful production...A breathtaking experience for the senses...Barry McNabb's masterful choreography is mesmerizing...But it's Abili's performance that gives this production its raw power...Abili's performance and O'Reilly's production make clear that Brutus Jones is one of the great tragic figures of the theater...The racial and political anxieties that 'The Emperor Jones' explores are ripe for renewed discussion in our time.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Remains shockingly powerful and relevant in its methods of addressing its ancient ideas. All of this is on full view, too, in O'Reilly's arresting production...A journey that first feels like a leisurely stroll soon transforms into a heart-pounding marathon...The cast is no less than expert. But in embracing both Jones's humanity and total lack of it, Abili is truly superb...This version of 'The Emperor Jones' knows exactly what it is and what it needs to be. And we are all the richer for it." Full Review

Broadway Blog

"Abili fills the stage with ample physical and vocal force although his words, written in heavy 'Negro' dialect, are sometimes muffled. At one point he whips his throne platform with one muscular blow after another, such that you shudder at the thought of what the effect would be on a human back...I missed John Douglas Thompson's performance so I can't compare him to Abili but, for now, Abili has set the high standard I'll remember the next time someone tackles 'The Emperor Jones.'" Full Review

Front Row Center

"It’s a play that every O’Neill fan should see, and one could do worse than choosing The Irish Rep’s current production that offers plenty of compelling visuals, and a mostly powerful performance by its lead...Jones is a challenging role for any actor and Abili does bring the heat and the intensity if not an extreme emotional range...If he is lacking chemistry at the opening, he has found the proper equation by his final scene." Full Review


"Still breathtakingly original...It's hard to top Thompson's riveting performance...Obi Abili hasn't mastered the brutish Jones's dialect with quite the same crystal clear line delivery. However, his more physically focused interpretation is quite extraordinary and works well with this expressionistic presentation...The amazing puppets and the actors who inhabit them, as well as the costumes, atmospheric music and lighting are what makes this 'Emperor Jones' so special." Full Review

Woman Around Town

“Prepare to be immersed in the vengeful actions of a spirit world made lucid by a sensational production of ‘The Emperor Jones’…The symbiotic creatives at Irish Rep, under the adroit helm of Director Ciaran O’Reilly, offer a visually and audibly inventive, palpably menacing, magical scenario. O’Reilly, proven skillful with both naturalism and musicals is also apparently superb with the inconceivable. Concept and coordination are as outstanding as his lead’s performance.” Full Review

Stage Buddy

“With Brutus the sole character for much of the show, success relies on Obi Abili’s excellent performance as the tormented ruler. Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly, Abili captivates with the powerful way he captures Brutus’s descent. Some of the surrounding material becomes somewhat repetitive...But Abili maintains the strength of the story line through his powerful portrayal of a man falling from power, life, and himself." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"An expressionistic masterpiece. Under the boldly inventive eye of director O’Reilly, O’Neill’s controversial 1920 play thumps and swirls itself deeper and deeper and with increasing wonder into the fissured psyche of its title character...Even with stellar acting and directing, the elements that lift this production to its greatest heights come from its technical team...The expedition pays off handsomely, as this production captures all that makes O’Neill’s play powerful and haunting." Full Review

New York Irish Arts

"The takeaway from the show is usually the tour de force of the eponymous role. But while Abili brings gravitas and intensity to his role, his performance is not the main event. The play itself is, and that’s how it should be...Director Ciarán O’Reilly, with the help of choreographer Barry McNabb, has put together a dark, precise and unforgettable production...Jones never makes it out of the forest—and neither does the audience. The production is precise, terrifying and truly haunting." Full Review

NY Theatre Guide

"Arrogance leads to the Emperor Jones' downfall. The last night of his reign unfolds in the Irish Repertory Theatre's riveting production, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, with Obi Alibi’s hypnotic performance of the title role...It’s painful to watch, but hard not to. What is surprising about a 1920 play that won its author his second Pulitzer Prize is that it chronicles one man‘s descent into madness. O’Neill does not regard humanity or tyranny in black and white." Full Review

Berkshire Fine Arts

“A powerful early play by Eugene O’Neill, made even more powerful by its flawless production at the Irish Repertory Theatre…All the wit, energy and anger the character claims for himself is dramatized by Abili in slithering, jolting gestures and subtle and roaring twists of language…Director Ciaran O'Reilly treats the real and the unreal with the same even hand, which makes the downward spiral of the Emperor all the more powerful.” Full Review

This Week in New York Blog

“It’s hard to deny the sheer power of the play, which is both uncomfortable to watch and utterly captivating in this intense and intimate production…Abili fully embodies the role, his fear palpable…Murray makes Smithers a fine foil for Jones…Everyone involved deserves kudos…It might have been written nearly a century ago, but 'The 'Emperor Jones' can still shock, providing no easy outs, particularly in this poignant version that bookends the Obama years.” Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Great acting, Intense, Great lighting, Great sound design

See it if you want to see an expressionist adaptation of the play. Sound design & lighting are a triumph and evoke the right mood. Obi Alibi is great.

Don't see it if creepy puppets and masked characters bother you, you're looking for a play with more realism

Absorbing, Enchanting, Great acting, Masterful, Great staging

See it if you enjoy classic theater brought to life with amazingly powerful dance and puppetry. Highly entertaining.

Don't see it if you do not like intense theatrical performances of classic plays.

Absorbing, Edgy, Intense, Thought-provoking, Profound

See it if Haunting, visceral staging of the emperor's demise using menacing life-sized puppets as the ghosts. Beliefs, power, and magic rule.

Don't see it if You prefer material that is easier to understand and analyze. You don't like artistic hallucinatory dance scenes.

Also Great acting, lighting and sound. This 70 min work of art made a big i... Read more Read less

Edgy, Intense, Thought-provoking, Well acted, Experimental

See it if you like O'Neill's character studies. Obili is great as TEJ. The highly creative staging is fascinating, altho the story line gets weird.

Don't see it if you dislike fantasy staging. I preferred the first half's realism. Frequent use of "n" word feels wrong. But despot dethroned resonates!

Exquisite, Great acting, Great writing, Great staging, Great choregraphy

See it if Unique interpretation/performance of O’Neill play. Kudos to the team! Abili gave a brilliant performance.

Don't see it if You do not like O'Neill' work, or you do not like modern art, including modern theater.

This production is beautiful to see and hear., Creative and compelling staging., This early o'neill play is dated and very racist - tough to listen to., Convincing descent into madness.

See it if You want to see an innovative, experimental take on a classic play, you have some knowledge of O'Neill and its controversial story.

Don't see it if You have trouble understanding accents and patois, are uncomfortable w subject matter, don't like the use of puppets/dance, want light fare.

Also Historically, I have never liked this play, but chose to see it becaus... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Inventive, Great staging

See it if you're interested in an atypical play by O'Neill and witnessing a man's descent into madness. Great acting by Obi Abili, great direction.

Don't see it if you're looking for a whimsical night of theater; you dislike experimental theater and/or the use of masks and puppetry.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound

See it if Excellent production, well acted and staged. A quick 65 intense minutes!

Don't see it if You only like musicals and light drama.

Absorbing, Edgy, Exquisite, Intense, Great staging

See it if powerful, mesmerizing experience that is totally relevant to the world today

Don't see it if you need a lot of plot, get offended by racial denigration, get bored with stage theatrics

Banal, Disappointing, Cliched, Dated, Great staging

See it if it is for the creativeness of the choreography and staging

Don't see it if Dialogue is yelled which is difficult to understand; the topic is still relevant, but play's strength diminishes.

More than keeps up

See it if You can avoid balcony. Virtual one man show w inventive masks and puppetry. Funny despite grim plot. Second production by dir likely better.

Don't see it if Saddled w balcony. If 70 min show too little entertainment value.

Also Slainte! IRT returns home with a bang. Thrillingly suspenseful and pri... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing

See it if If you like drama. Excellent job by the Irish Rep.

Don't see it if You don't like drama.

Ambitious, Great acting

See it if if you want to see great acting and an important story.

Don't see it if you want to spend 70 minutes of meaningful theatre without unnecessary native dancing

Absorbing, Profound, Riveting, Great staging

See it if you're interested in an expressionistic O'Neill play with good staging, acting, choreography.

Don't see it if you think your memories of this production, also by the Irish Rep, starring John Douglas Thompson could interfere with your enjoyment.

Also I kept thinking about the fabulous performance by Mr .Thompson through... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Riveting, Great staging

See it if you're willing to be swept away by astounding visual representations.

Don't see it if you prefer straight story-telling without abstract symbolism.

Enchanting, Thought-provoking, Unusual

See it if You are in the mood for a different kind of O'Neil play. It won't be your favorite, but you will be glad you saw it.

Don't see it if You don't like amazing costumes, tribal drumming, and unusual choreography with symbolic meaning.

Absorbing, Intense, Riveting, Interesting, Great staging

See it if you appreciate amazing staging and a unique and intimate theater experience

Don't see it if if you don't like confusing endings of parts of abstract performance

Funny, Edgy, Great acting, Intense, Slow

See it if Interesting story but slow

Don't see it if If you are looking to see a frama

Absorbing, Epic, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great staging

See it if You love movement, language and compelling staging.

Don't see it if You don't like 65min plays

During previews
Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Riveting

See it if Outstanding acting. Creative staging. Intense.

Don't see it if Want light entertainment

During previews
Absorbing, Clever, Great staging

See it if Great puppets. Loved the dances. Irish Rep is a great place to see a production

Don't see it if My problem is that I compared it to one of my all time hero actors John Douglas Thomson who was superb in the same show at the same site .

During previews
Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Quirky, Relevant

See it if you want to see an O'Neill play which hasn't lost it's relevance to today. You don't have to sit in the balcony,

Don't see it if you have trouble following black patois and English lower class accents; you prefer drama without a lot of hidden under/over tones.

Also In truth, I fell asleep during a lot of this. My balcony seats were so... Read more Read less

During previews
Great staging

See it if For the "special effects" Brilliant use of props, costumes, puppets, etc. One of the most mesmerizing dance performances ever.

Don't see it if I find this story and the dialogue on the thin side. Lead was very good but maybe needed a more original take on the role.

Also Not sure why the Irish Rep is tackling this play? Irish connection ten... Read more Read less

During previews
Ambitious, Clever, Epic, Intense, Stunning

See it if you're an O'Neill fan, enjoy creative, clever staging using sound, masks, puppetry, and dance to create an intense, frightening experience

Don't see it if you don't like early O'Neill, "spectacle" theater, a plot focusing on a single character's descent in madness in an obvious plot trajectory

During previews
Dizzying, Great acting, Confusing, Great staging

See it if The staging and lighting - along with the no-holds-barred expressionistic acting of the lead - manage to override the disappointing script

Don't see it if You are looking for a coherent and resonant script - this is purely an experimental script, a piece of expressionistic theater.