on Breaking Barriers in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones
With John Douglas Thompson and Obi Abili
In Discussion with Ciarán O’Reilly
Eugene O’Neill evolved as the first major American playwright to address the problem of racism in the United States. He despised the discrepancies between the image America projected – a democracy based on equality and justice for all – and what he really saw as a racially divided land of gross inequality. At Irish Repertory Theatre, John Douglas Thompson and Obi Abili both memorably played the title role in O’Neill’s provocative and controversial play in separate productions. With director Ciarán O’Reilly, they discuss the complexities of exploring this 1920 play that exposed the painful truths that America is still grappling with 100 years later.
The Emperor Jones, Spring 2017, with Obi Abili
The Emperor Jones, Fall/ Winter 2009/10, with John Douglas Thompson
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON
Broadway: King Lear, Becker in August Wilson’s Jitney (Tony nomination), A Time To Kill, Cyrano de Bergerac, Julius Caesar. Off-Broadway: Julius Caesar at Public Theater, The Iceman Cometh at BAM (Obie and Drama Desk Awards); Tamburlaine at Theater for a New Audience (Obie, Drama Desk and AUDELCO Awards ) ; Satchmo at the Waldorf (Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and NAACP Awards) at the Westside Theater, King Lear , Macbeth (title role); Othello (Obie Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Joe A. Callaway Award) at TFANA; The Forest at Classic Stage Company; The Emperor Jones at Irish Repertory Theatre (Joe A. Callaway Award and Lucille Lortel, Drama League and Drama Desk nominations); Hedda Gabler at New York Theatre Workshop. Regional credits: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Mark Taper
Forum (Ovation Award); Antony and Cleopatra at Hartford Stage; Red Velvet, Othello , Richard III , King Lear, and Mother Courage at Shakespeare & Co; Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at The Wilma Theater (Barrymore Award) and productions at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Trinity Repertory Company, American Repertory Theater and Yale Repertory Theatre. His television and film credits include: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, “Wolves”, “Bull”, “Person of Interest”, “Madam Secretary”, “Law & Order”, “Conviction”, “Bourne Legacy”, “Glass Chin”, “Michael Clayton”, “Malcolm X”. Upcoming films: “21 Bridges”, “355”, and “Let Them All Talk”. John is a Fox Fellow recipient, has received the Samuel H. Scripps Award, and the Robert Brustein Award for sustained excellence in American theater.
Obi Abili is a stage, film and television actor who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (RADA) and was named as a “Star of Tomorrow” by Screen International in 2010 and ‘an actor to watch” by IndieWire in the same year. He recently came off a supporting role in the upcoming Feature Film “21 Bridges”, opposite Chadwick Boseman and JK Simmons as well as the feature “London Fields”, opposite Amber Heard and Billy Bob Thornton. He also had a leading role in the feature film “Tula: The Revolt” opposite Danny Glover and was also seen opposite Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz in “Gambit”. Obi was a regular on the UK miniseries “The Take” with Tom Hardy, “Injustice” with James Purefoy, “Moses Jones” with Eamonn Walker and “The Nativity” with Tatiana Maslany. He recurred on Showtime’s “Billions” and guest starred on Cinemax’s “Strike Back”, NBC’s “Blindspo”t and BBC’s “Foyle’s War”. Obi recently starred in the Irish Rep’s production of The Emperor Jones. He also starred opposite Juliette Binoche in Ivo van Hove’s production of Antigone at BAM. He has also been involved as recently involved in a 12 week Theatre of War run of Antigone in Ferguson, a production that highlighted the current issue of police brutality and systemic racism in the United States. Actors in that project included David Straitharn, David Zayas, Chad Coleman, Amy Ryan, Zach Grenier and many others.
Favorite directing credits include: Lady G: Plays and Whisperings of Lady Gregory, Dublin Carol, The Shadow of a Gunman, The Seafarer, The Dead, 1904, Shining City, Off the Meter, On the Record, The Weir (Calloway Nom.), Banished Children of Eve, The Emperor Jones, (Callaway Award, O’Neill Credo Award, Drama Desk, Drama League, and Lucille Lortel Nom.), The Hairy Ape (Drama Desk Drama League and Callaway Nom.), Philadelphia, Here I Come! (Drama Desk Nom). Irish Rep acting roles include Da, Juno and the Paycock, Dancing at Lughnasa, Molly Sweeney, Candida, Aristocrats, A Whistle in the Dark, The Shaughraun, and The Irish and How They Got That Way. He appeared in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of A Touch of the Poet with Gabriel Byrne. He has appeared at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and made his Broadway debut in The Corn is Green. Films include “The Devil’s Own” (starring Harrison Ford), “Law & Order,” “The Irish…and How They Got That Way,” “Third Watch,” “Bored to Death,” and “The Knick.” Ciarán has recently been inducted in to the Irish America Hall of Fame and has been awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad, 2019 by President Michael D. Higgins.