The Emperor Jones
Closed 1h 10m
The Emperor Jones
81

The Emperor Jones NYC Reviews and Tickets

81%
(94 Reviews)
Positive
93%
Mixed
5%
Negative
2%
Members say
Great acting, Great staging, Intense, Absorbing, Thought-provoking

About the Show

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.

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Member Reviews (94)

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70
Edgy, Intense, Thought-provoking, Experimental, Well acted

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!

95
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. Read more

Critic Reviews (25)

The New York Times
March 24th, 2017

"A gorgeous, astonishing production...Both ferocious and blindsidingly affecting with Abili in the title role...'The Emperor Jones' is encrusted by its own time, with dialect that reads like racial caricature and sometimes cringe-worthy stage directions...O’Reilly’s lucid fever dream of a production shrugs off that grime, putting at its center a performance of such assured intelligence that there’s no possibility of condescension. Boundary-pushing in its day, the play still has plenty to say."
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New Yorker
April 8th, 2017

“Abili’s bravura performance doesn’t come off as ‘bravura’ and has no cheap flourishes...O’Neill was considerably influenced by the argument made by the legendary stage designer Gordon Craig, in his book ‘The Theatre Advancing,’ that, in doing away with masks, pantomime, and dance, the theatre had lost its magic. O’Reilly throws all of that back in. The result is mostly cumbersome and ‘artisanal,’ but, in the end, this unconvincing backdrop serves to show us Abili’s performance in relief."
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Theatermania
March 12th, 2017

“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.”
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Lighting & Sound America
March 28th, 2017

"Worth seeing for its assured style alone...Obi Abili delivers a performance that isn't easily shaken off...Despite the outsized emotions he must register, there's a precision to everything Abili does, a variety of shadings that reveal each scene to be another step in Jones' descent into madness and death...O'Neill's script is a weaponized comment on human cruelty, designed to make audiences feel uncomfortable, and, produced with passion and creativity as it is here, it continues to do so."
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Talkin' Broadway
March 13th, 2017

"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."
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TheaterScene.net
March 28th, 2017

"With Charlie Corcoran's flexible set turning the tiny stage of the Irish Rep into a looming tropical forest, and the smartly realized costumes of Antonia Ford-Roberts and Whitney Locher, and Bob Flanagan's masks and puppets transforming a cast of seven into a multitude of trees, ghostly presences and spirits, the five hundred or so square feet of this stage on West 22nd Street became a vividly haunted island in the West Indies, giving life to O'Neill's 1920 drama."
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Theater Pizzazz
April 9th, 2017

"What drives this highly expressionistic production is the charismatic Obi Abili as Emperor Jones, giving one of the most exciting performances on the New York stage this season...Abili has a commanding stage presence that keeps you utterly riveted throughout. He fills the tiny Irish Repertory Theatre with his explosive power...Director O’Reilly and his design team have dramatized Emperor Jones’ journey in powerful theatrical terms."
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CurtainUp
March 12th, 2017

"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."
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Front Row Center
March 13th, 2017

"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."
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Stage Buddy
March 15th, 2017

“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."
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Exeunt Magazine
March 12th, 2017

"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."
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T
April 1st, 2017

"Under O’Reilly’s inventive direction, Abili delivers an engaging adrenaline-driven performance...'Emperor Jones,' despite its rich themes and enduring questions, is not without problems. In his efforts to address the evils of racism, O’Neill resorts to language that is racist and a purely psychological reading of the play is problematic. Seen through the political critical lens, however, the play provides a treasure trove of redemptive conversation concerning the dangers of despotism."
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Broadway Blog
March 14th, 2017

"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.'"
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Times Square Chronicles
March 24th, 2017

“Abili is a force to be reckoned with, I just wish I had understood him through the heavy dialect. His presence and acting are masterful and powerful and extremely psychopathic. As he waved the gun around, I was actually cringing that it might go off…The direction by Ciarán O'Reilly is chilling, and choreographer Barry McNabb shines as his forest and witch doctor (Sinclair Mitchell) come springing to life.”
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W
March 14th, 2017

“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.”
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T
March 13th, 2017

"Controversy has surrounded the play from the very beginning because of its use of stereotypes, speech, and rampant use of the N-word...Regardless of where you find yourself on the racist controversy, 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...'The Emperor Jones' can still shock, providing no easy outs, particularly in this poignant version."
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scribicide
March 29th, 2017

"[M]ostly 'The Emperor Jones' proves impenetrable, a wonderful test of stamina for the lead actor and perhaps for the audience as well."
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Epoch Times
April 7th, 2017

"Too much praise cannot be heaped upon Abili, who embodies Emperor Jones in body and mind, his taut actor’s intelligence merging with his role. Furthermore, in addition to portraying the viciousness of the character, he makes us feel compassion for this tortured man. Kudos to O’Reilly, whose directing brought about a stunning rendition of this important theater work."
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B
March 12th, 2017

“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.”
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TheaterScene.com
April 22nd, 2017

“Between the terrific performance by Obi Abili as Jones, and the splendid vision of director Ciaran O’Reilly, this is one of those times when a not-so-good play gets an excellent production, which makes it a don’t miss…Abili gives an astonishing performance as Brutus Jones. His rage, his arrogance, his fear, his regret, remorse, and disintegration are all perfectly embodied. It’s a knockout performance…The ensemble are all terrific.”
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NY Theatre Guide
March 13th, 2017

"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."
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Plays to See
March 19th, 2017

“An unforgettable theatrical experience that will stir you and leave you shaken. Abili gives an impressively physicalized, fearless performance…He handles O’Neill’s potentially cartoonish African-American dialect with a more updated street bravado. It works...O’Reilly employs an experiment, having the local people all in masks. The effect is both distancing and chilling. Maybe not having to show their faces also makes it a little easier for actors to embrace this troubling, important work.”
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New York Irish Arts
March 19th, 2017

"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."
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Village Voice
April 12th, 2017

"The Irish Rep production avoids critiquing O'Neill's text but still gives it an insightful, disturbing reading. As Jones, Abili stalks and rasps about the stage with mesmerizing focus and intensity...O'Reilly's production surrounds him with a whirlwind of scenic effects, all of which make the show feel more like a haunted house than an expressionist parable. But Abili shines through all this distracting cheesiness, creating a troubling portrait of Jones that sticks in the mind — and the gut."
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T
March 13th, 2017

“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.”
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