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Eugene O'Neill Festival kicks off in Danville

Annual celebration features two plays, music, hikes

The 18th annual Eugene O'Neill Festival is now underway in Danville, featuring storytelling, music and history.

The yearly event is a celebration of the Irish storytelling and late American playwright Eugene O'Neill who spent part of his career living in Danville, so perhaps it's fitting that this year's theme is "telling tales."

"We want the festival to reflect the experience of the Irish both in Ireland and America," said Eric Fraisher Hayes, the Eugene O'Neill Foundation's director of artistic programs.

The festival kicked off this past weekend, starting Friday night, with performances by the Role Players Ensemble of Irish playwright John Millington Synge's "The Playboy of the Western World." The play will run at the Village Theatre until Sept. 17.

Another play will also be featured, written by the festival's namesake himself: O'Neill's "A Touch of the Poet." The work will be presented from Sept. 16-30 in the Old Barn theater at the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, where O'Neill, the only American playwright to be honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature, lived from 1937 to 1944 and wrote his most well-recognized plays.

Edward Nattenberg and Hayes will be directing.

"Both plays feature characters who swear by a fantastic story of heroic deeds only to have their stories catch up with them," Hayes said. "Their reckonings are both comedic and tragic, displaying the resilience of the Irish people."

Bay Area Celtic and jazz singer Megan O'Reilly will perform right before the opening night show of "A Touch of the Poet" on Sept. 16.

The festival's musical event, "Ballads and Blarney: An Evening of Traditional Irish Music and Song," is scheduled to occur at 7 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, featuring Donagh McKeown of San Francisco's Irish Cultural Center -- a mixture of storytelling, music, beer and pretzels. This event, however, is currently sold out.

Lastly, the festival will include "The Secrets of O'Neill's Danville" -- a guided walking tour of downtown Danville on Sept. 9, departing at 10 a.m. from the O'Neill Commemorative on Front Street -- and the second annual "Hike to Tao House" on Sept. 10, beginning at 9 a.m. from downtown Danville to Tao House.

Presently, a small exhibit is in place at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, showcasing O'Neill playbills and offering details about his Irish roots. Also at the museum, Olivia, a local Irish Wolfhound, will be greeting visitors at the three events that will be taking place there: before the Ballads and Blarney program, at the end of the "Secrets of O'Neill's Danville" tour and before the "Hike to Tao House."

The festival is sponsored by the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, in partnership with the National Park Service.

Tickets for the two featured theater productions and related festival events are on sale now, available at www.villagetheatreshows.com or by calling 314-3400. More information can be found at www.eugeneoneill.org.

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