The Eugene O'Neill Foundation has a lot to celebrate this month. Not only is it the 30th anniversary of the group's founding, but September 23-26 also marks the fifth annual Eugene O'Neill Festival, a weekend-long series of performances, seminars, tours, and more.
The playwright's local ties date from 1937 to 1944, when he resided in Danville at his estate, Tao House. It was there that O'Neill wrote what are generally regarded as his most important works, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Long Day's Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. O'Neill remains the only American playwright to have won four Pulitzer Prizes as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tao House, on a 158-acre ranch bordering the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, won designation as a National Historic Site thanks to the Foundation's efforts 30 years ago.
The Festival kicks off on Thursday, September 23 at 7:00 p.m. with the 30th Anniversary Celebration and Reception, a special get-together prior to the opening of New Girl in Town, a concert version of the Broadway musical based on O'Neill's drama Anna Christie. The show, which stars Tielle Baker as Anna, will be performed at 8:00 that same night, with subsequent performances on Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. The reception and performances will all take place at the Village Theatre, 233 Front Street in Danville (925/314-3463).
Docent-led tours of Tao House will be available as usual through the National Park Service (call 925/838-0249 for times and reservations). Friday, September 24 and Saturday, September 25 will offer the special Tao House Living History Open House, where actors Kurt Gravenhorst and ej Ndeto will take on the roles of Eugene O'Neill and his wife Carlotta in presenting the home to visitors, who are also encouraged to strike up a dialogue with the pair. The Living History event will also feature actors from Walnut Creek's Center Repertory Company's acting internship company performing scenes from O'Neill plays in the Old Barn. Vans to Tao House will leave from the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Avenue, at 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. and at 1:00 and 2:30 p.m. on Friday and at 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. There is a $5 fee for admission.
For those who seek a more scholarly approach, Saturday, September 25 will see a seminar entitled "The Legacy of Eugene O'Neill" led by St. Mary's drama professor Dan Cawthon, taking place from 1:00 to 3:15 p.m. at the Danville Town Meeting Hall, 201 Front Street, which will be followed at 3:30 by a special "Living History" tour and performance for seminar attendees. Tickets and additional information are available at (925) 314-3463.
Finally, for a different slant on O'Neill's work, the Museum of San Ramon Valley is also displaying the Eugene O'Neill Centennial Quilt, designed and produced in 1985-86 by the San Ramon Valley Auxiliary of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation. The museum is also showing drawings of O'Neill, copies of his Nobel Prize, and photographs. Call (925) 837-3750 for details. The Danville Fine Arts Gallery will also take part in the festival with art inspired by the Tao House Estate. Call (925) 838-1959 for additional information.
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