Danville's role in the history of modern theater is being celebrated again this year, with a number of local events that kicked off last week and continue through next month bringing the work of the "father of modern theater" -- Eugene O'Neill -- back to life in the town he settled in shortly after winning a Nobel Prize.
This year's Eugene O'Neill Festival marks the 23rd produced by organizers with the foundation bearing the famed playwright's name and based out of his former home at the Tao House, with the main event -- a full production of an O'Neill play -- inspiring them to emphasize women's voices with the theme "Having Her Say".
The festival kicked off at Danville's Auburn Lounge on Aug. 2, featuring a discussion by dramaturg and Babson College professor Beth Wynstra, a Walnut Creek native who has worked with Eugene O'Neill Foundation artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes on the last three productions from the foundation, about her recently released book that showcases the role of women's voices and the upheaval surrounding gender roles that O'Neill explored in his work.
Wynstra's book "Vows, Veils, and Masks: The Performance of Marriage in the Plays of Eugene O'Neill" debuted on July 7, giving the local audience one of the first opportunities to hear insight from the author and join her for a discussion.
In addition to exploring O'Neill's showcasing of women's voices, this year's festival will also showcase a timely update to a well-known Victorian story that explored the repression of women during O'Neill's time.
"The Yellow Wallpaper 2.0" was developed by Los Angeles playwright Jennifer Maisel while in residency at the Tao House in 2021, and seeks to adapt premises of the classic short story by Charlotte Perkins Gillman for the modern day with an exploration of domesticity and gender roles inspired by restrictions and shutdowns in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maisel will return to Danville for pre- and post-show discussions during the two-night run of her play at the Veterans Memorial Building on Aug. 19 and 20.
While Maisel's play is a highly anticipated event and a rare opportunity to see the recent work come to life on stage -- as well as to talk with the playwright behind it -- the main event aims to bring O'Neill's work to life with a full-scale production of "Anna Christie", which is known for featuring what is widely considered one of his most impressive and compelling female protagonists.
The play earned O'Neill a Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for its portrayal of the protagonists battle for self-determination that takes the form of a visit to a waterfront saloon and reunion with her father that addresses and explores childhood trauma after supporting herself via sex work.
While the three-weekend run of the production doesn't start until next month, fans can get a head start exploring the play via a reading group looking at the text ahead of time by joining a virtual discussion on Aug. 31.
"Anna Christie" opens on Sept. 9 for an evening show in the Old Barn Theater at the Tao House site on the outskirts of Danville, followed by a Sunday matinee on Sept. 10. The production is scheduled for three performances in the subsequent weeks, with evening shows at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 followed by a 2 p.m. matinee on Sept. 17. The schedule is the same on the final weekend from Sept. 22-24.
A full schedule and more information about the festival are available at eugeneoneill.org/productions/festival.