Who dare whistle dat way in my palace? Who dare
o' you niggers sho!
The Wooster Group production from the 1990s and the early years of the new century, at least saved its audiences from having to spend an hour with this wincingly painful language coming out of the mouth of black man; in their production, a woman, Kate Valk, plays Jones. But she does so, dressed in a garish imitation of a Japanese emperor’s robe like something out of The Mikado, while in blackface.
Miraculously, however, the Wooster group and Kate Valk, in particular, have created a work that not only questions the very values of O’Neill’s original, but that actually touches both our intellects and our hearts, partially restoring the intentions of O’Neill’s original. By layering the various levels of white bigotry that has made Brutus Jones such a self-destructive being, we discover his real humanity sometimes hidden by both the original text and the theatrical interpretations of such a figure. Valk majestically takes on this character with all the crazed enthusiasm of the characters in Jean Genet’s The Blacks, and in her interchanges with the sometimes garbled video presentation of (his) white “partner,” Smithers (William Dafoe in the video version and Scott Shepherd and Ari Fliakos in stage versions) speaking an equally exaggerated Irish brogue, reveals his knowledge that any royalty bequeathed him is only temporary.
Hooting (“Hah-Hah-Hah,” in seeming imitation of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire) and hollering, by turns; seriously terrified by his fate and comically mocking his whole ridiculous “reign,” the Emperor of this work runs the gambit of emotional expressions. Valk is at once a peacock and a wide-eyed child-on-the-run, terrified of being caught and lynched. His own myth, that he can be killed only with a silver bullet, makes him a kind of vampire, which, in fact, he has been playing, sucking the blood from his own kind.