"N"

Eugene O’Neill’s groundbreaking 1921 play, The Emperor Jones, was the first American play that featured an African-American actor in the lead role on Broadway. Charles S. Gilpin’s portrayal of Emperor Brutus Jones was hailed as “revelatory,” and he was named the finest actor of the age. The opening of The Emperor Jones made stars of both men; it was O’Neill’s first commercial success, and Charles Gilpin became...
Eugene O’Neill’s groundbreaking 1921 play, The Emperor Jones, was the first American play that featured an African-American actor in the lead role on Broadway. Charles S. Gilpin’s portrayal of Emperor Brutus Jones was hailed as “revelatory,” and he was named the finest actor of the age. The opening of The Emperor Jones made stars of both men; it was O’Neill’s first commercial success, and Charles Gilpin became the toast of the theater world. But by 1926, O’Neill was a legend and Gilpin was lost to history. N explores the challenging relationship between Gilpin and O’Neill and how it ultimately hinged on one word; a word that lifted one of them to the heights of American theater, and a word that destroyed the other.
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"N"

Recommended by

  • Ian Thal:
    26 Nov. 2021
    Though our sympathies align with Charles Gilpin, Pender has crafted a layered and nuanced double portrait of both Gilpin and Eugene O'Neill. The power imbalance of race and money is always present, both artists are dedicated to their craft, believers in the social value of their art, convinced that they know best, and both high-functioning alcoholics, yet their mutual respect and admiration for each other’s artistry feeds into their mutual neediness for respect and admiration, bringing them together and setting up the eventual clash. I reviewed N for Washington City Paper: https://washingtoncitypaper.com/article/538906/n-offers-a-nuanced-look-at-charles-sydney-gilpin-eugene-oneill/
  • Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend:
    14 Nov. 2021
    Wow, this play about race and theater and capital-A Art is fantastic. It follows Charles Gilpin as he skyrockets to fame in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, and the rise and fall of both Gilpin's relationship with O'Neill and Gilpin's career. Their fallout hinges on Gilpin's refusal to say one derogatory word (you know the one) which O'Neill peppered throughout the play. I've made my own share of "Don't change a single one of my precious words. They're all there for a reason" speeches, so hearing O'Neill make that argument in this context made me uncomfortable and made me think.
  • Patricia Milton:
    7 Jun. 2020
    This well-researched play follows Charles S. Gilpin as he grapples with the role of Brutus in O'Neill's THE EMPEROR JONES. Although universally lauded for his acting skill, Gilpin experiences an anguished struggle with O'Neill's stereotypical depiction of the character, demeaning dialogue, and use of the "N" word. Adrienne Pender illustrates this artistic and personal discord beautifully and powerfully. Gilpin's wife is also caught up in his clash of conscience and artistry, and she is expertly portrayed. An unusual play illustrating theatre and race in the US from a black actor's viewpoint. Highly recommended.

Development History

  • Reading
    ,
    Black Theater Network, National Conference
    ,
    2018
  • Reading
    ,
    Eugene O'Neill Foundation
    ,
    2016
  • Reading
    ,
    Dayton Playhouse
    ,
    2016

Production History

  • Professional
    ,
    Keegan Theater, Washington DC
    ,
    2021
  • Professional
    ,
    Plowshares Theater Company, Detroit, MI
    ,
    2020
  • Professional
    ,
    Jubilee Theater, Ft. Worth, TX
    ,
    2020
  • Professional
    ,
    Theatre in the Park
    ,
    2017

Awards

Finalist
,
FutureFest Festival of New Plays
,
Dayton Playhouse
,
2016