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Emperor Jones Speaker's Nights Allow Journalist & Cast Member Talk-backs

The Emperor Jones, opening March 4 at the Centre Theater in Norristown has been called many things. This classic work of experimental expressionist theatre has been called a vehicle for racism, a door opening opportunity for African American theater and more. The rarely produced drama examines issues of spirituality, colonialism, madness and freedom with an African American lead roll. Written in the 1920s, the play predates the African American theatrical renaissance. To help place the play in context, Iron Age will be hosting a speaker's night and several talk backs with the cast during the run.

The play is particularly relevant today given the rebellions against dictatorships erupting around the world. "Although the play was written in the early 20th century, the actions of the play, the deposing of a despot by a native community, is resonant." said Director John Doyle

Additionally, the play forces Jones to walk on the edge between his Christian faith and a more primal religion.

On March 13, after the 2pm performance, Constance Garcia Barrio will be speaking about the play and the supernatural vs religious issues in O'Neill's work. Barrio, a freelance writer, teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia. Her credits include the Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Pennsylvania Magazine, Persimmon Tree, Wild River Review, Kerf and other publications. Her recent article in the inquirer considered the world of voodoo and its relationship to ethnic heritage and Christianity.

Much of Barrio's writing deals with black history in the U.S. and Hispanic countries. She won a magazine journalism award from the National Association of Black Journalists for a story on blacks in circus history. Her short story, "The Sitting Tree," was chosen by Interact Theatre for a reading by a professional actress. "The Sitting Tree" harks back to her last visit with her great-grandmother, Rose Wilson Ware, who was born into slavery in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, about 1851, and lived until 1964, 113 years. Ms. Garcia-Barrio has just finished writing a novel based on black history in Philadelphia.

The cast and production crew will take one night each weekend to talk about the play after the performance. The actors' perspective on the issues of the play will enhance this challenging and thrilling piece of theatre.

"The Emperor Jones" features Kash Goins as Brutus Jones. Goins is one of the fastest rising stars in the Philadelphia region and the director of GOKASH productions. He is a writer, director, producer and innovator who spearheaded this fall's Philadelphia Urban Theatre Festival. He played John Henry in the Centre Theater's world premiere of "The Life of John Henry" by Chris Braak. Supporting Goins is Luke Moyer, who plays the Emperor's cynical British crony. Moyer, a Villanova University graduate was seen in "Molumby's Million" and "The Rear Column" at The Centre Theater. Tiffany Joyner, Rich Bradford, and Maurice Tucker complete the ensemble. Josh Camera who made his stage debut in "The Rear Column" will also be par of the cast.

To offer even more context, Iron Age theatre will be continuing its production bog where cast members, production staff and members of the Iron Age team post articles about their experience with the play, production and process. This resource will enhance the audience's experience making the play more than just an evening's performance. It is a permanent web based talk back about the play.

Iron Age will live stream both talkbacks and speaker events on the company's USTREAM channel as well as post archives of those events on the Iron Age Your Tube page. "It is a chance to get into our imaginations," said Director Doyle.

Eugene O'Neill is considered the greatest American playwright. A multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, his dramas such as "The Iceman Cometh," "Desire Under the Elms," and "Long Days Journey Into Night" defined American theater and are still among the greatest plays written. "The Emperor Jones" was written in 1920 as a response to America's manipulation of events in Haiti. It was a hit on Broadway, launching O'Neill's professional career. The part of Jones is one of the great African American roles with Paul Robeson and James Earl Jones giving towering performances of the part. O'Neill's short, brutal play, challenges our perceptions of African American theatre. It is a white writer's vision but, historically, it was the first serious American play to encompass black experience.

Working together, the Centre Theater and Iron Age Theatre have been one of the most critically acclaimed companies in the area for over fifteen years. The Philadelphia City Paper called the companies, The area's most underappreciated theater company. Receiving Barrymore nominations for a number of their productions the companies have also premiered seven plays in the past two years including "Citizen Paine," "Waiting for the Ship from Delos," "The Life of John Henry," Jeffrey Hatcher's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "Empress of the Moon", "Molumby's Million" and most recently Chris Braak's "Red Emma" about anarchist Emma Goldman. Iron Age Theatre has been diligently experimenting with livecasting for the past two years including live web cast of events, premieres and talk backs. This allows more people to access the ideas and issues of the play, enhancing the overall artistic opportunity of the community. The Centre's recent Independent Voices Festival presented 22 nights of theatre by 11 regional companies.

The Centre Theater is in the Montgomery County Cultural Center at 208 DeKalb Street in Norristown. It is easily reached via routes 202, I-76, I-476 and Ridge Pike. There is plenty of free parking and the theater is one block from Septa's Norristown Transit Center on the Manayunk/Norristown line.

"The Emperor Jones" opens March 4 and runs through March 27 at the Centre Theater, Norristown's professional theater at 208 DeKalb St. in downtown Norristown. Show times are 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call 610-279-1013 for information or visit the web at www.ironagetheatre.org



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