Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones received a majestic rendition by the NTID Performing Arts and Ebony Club. Using both voice and American Sign Language, the play employed excellent actors who might ordinarily not have gotten a chance to perform such a landmark work. And best of all, the production gave a dated classic a clear, moving, and hard-edged outlook on prejudice and the need for community.
Director Luane Davis has been developing a new acting technique called Del-Sign, which is a combination of Francios Delsarte mime and ASL. What makes this new approach work is the grace and fluidity of the motion it gives actors. Additionally, the technique transports the viewer into the world of the play in a way rarely experienced. And when coupled with voice, the dialogue is easily understood by all. With the combination of Del-Sign and voice, O'Neill's words were crisper and more easily grasped; although the play was written in the 1930's, the Del-Sign gave the themes of prejudice (between the deaf and hearing world) a very contemporary feel. The language of prejudice wasn't shied away from — it was met head-on. Davis's bold approach coupled with choreographer Thomas Warfield's timing and fluid dancing made this production a terrific experience.
A touch of theatrical brilliance: Emperor Jones was played by two actors. The body of Jones was played by Troy Chapman. Chapman committed a physicality to Jones's body that spoke volumes; his paranoia, greed, vanity, and terror were expertly handled. His fluidity with Del-Sign made Chapman appear not only to be acting his role (which he does splendidly) but dancing his part as well. The Spirit of Jones, played by Chris Cole, lent a sensitive and emotional voice to the character. Cole gave this Jones a heart and a humanity that longed to be a part of a community. Separately, both actors were sensational, but together they became a powerhouse. Peter Haggerty and Scott Myers had the difficult task of playing white racists and handled their roles with integrity. And what an ensemble! Any production could benefit from the dancing and acting of Jessica Freeman, Alesia Howard, Karriefh Norman, Roxann Richards, Mike Spady, Brian Strothers and Antilla Zulkifl.
Wisely, Damita Peace's fabulous costumes had Chapman in all white and Cole in tropical colors matching the costumes worn by the other members of the community. The enchanting set by Ken Parks used a wooded circle on a black floor, bamboo and scrims with palm trees. The lush lights by Josh Liller added a remarkable glow to the evening.
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Copyright 2001 Andrés J. Wrath