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All God's Chillun Got Wings is an expressionist play by Eugene O'Neill about miscegenation inspired by the old Negro spiritual. He began developing ideas for the play in 1922, emphasizing its authenticity in his notes: "Base play on his experience as I have seen it intimately." O'Neill wrote the play in the fall of 1923 and revised the text only slightly for its 1924 publication. Arguably one of his most controversial of plays, it starred Paul Robeson in the premiere, in which he portrayed the black husband of an abusive white woman, who, resenting her husband's skin color, destroys his promising career as a lawyer.
The play opens in an interracial New York neighborhood. Jim Harris, an African American boy, and Ella Downey, a white girl, are drawn to each other.
Years later, Jim still loves Ella. However, she has adopted racist attitudes of the era, telling Jim that he's "forgetting [his] place" and that he should "go to the devil." Jim struggles through high school but graduates hoping to pursue law. Meanwhile, Ella is abandoned by a lover and has an illegitimate child that dies. The two former friends reconnect and Ella pledges her love to Jim. He proposes, they marry and travel to France.
Two years later, Jim and Ella return to their old neighborhood, to move into Jim's boyhood home. Ella has withdrawn from Jim and seems to be going mad.
Over the next year, Ella sinks deeper into her sickness. She feels threatened by an African mask hanging in the apartment. Her attitude sways between meanness — calling Jim a "dirty nigger" — and simple, childlike sweetness. Jim fails the bar exam, to Ella's delight. She stabs the mask, explaining to a horrified Jim that she's "killed the devil," and says that if he'd passed the exam she would have had to kill him. At the play's close, Ella longs for the innocence of their childhood and asks Jim to "come and play." Jim assures her that he'll "play right up to the Gates of Heaven" with her.
Even before its May 1924 premiere, the play made headlines. Reporting that a white actress would appear alongside a black actor — and that she would kiss his hand — newspapers warned of race riots. Love between people of different races was taboo in 1920s America. Dozens of states prohibited interracial marriage and enforced racial discrimination with harsh Jim Crow laws, and the Ku Klux Klan was on the rise in the South. Over four decades would pass before the Supreme Court would rule that state laws against interracial marriages were unconstitutional.
Those who objected to what they heard about O'Neill's new drama flooded the Provincetown Players with threats and letters of protest. Sensationalist newspapers like the New York American reported that the Mayor's office might stop the production for fear of "race strife". But the city couldn't force a cancellation in a subscription theater, which was a private club.
O'Neill defended his play, asking people to read it and not the newspapers. He also published an article by the well-known black intellectual, W.E.B. Du Bois; the full text of the Negro spiritual that he used for the play's title; and a poem by one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, among other things, in the playbill.
Despite the newspapers' predictions, the play ran without incident. Critics gave it mostly lukewarm reviews.
"Judging by the criticism it is easy to see that the attacks are almost entirely based on ignorance of 'God's Chillun.' I admit that there is prejudice against the intermarriage of whites and blacks, but what has that to do with my play? ... The persons who have attacked my play have given the impression that I make Jim Harris a symbolic representative of this race and Ella of the white race — that by uniting them I urge intermarriage. Now Jim and Ella are special cases and represent no one but themselves. Of course, the struggle between them is primarily the result of the difference in their racial heritage. It is their characters, the gap between them and their struggle to bridge it which interests me as a dramatist, nothing else." — Eugene O'Neill in a May 11, 1924 New York Times interview
"In 'All God's Chillun' we have the struggle of a man and woman, both fine struggling human beings, against forces they could not control, — indeed, scarcely comprehend — accentuated by the almost Christ-like spiritual force of the Negro husband, — a play of great strength and beautiful spirit, mocking all petty prejudice, emphasizing the humanness, and in Mr. O'Neill's words, 'the oneness' of mankind." — Paul Robeson, in the December 1924 issue of Opportunity
Aucun dossier informatif complémentaire concernant All God's Chillun Got Wings
All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924-05-Provincetown Playhouse-Broadway Off)Type de série: Original
Théâtre: Provincetown Playhouse (Broadway (Off) - Etats-Unis) Durée : 4 mois 3 semaines Nombre : Première Preview : jeudi 15 mai 1924Première : jeudi 15 mai 1924Dernière : samedi 04 octobre 1924Mise en scène : James Light • Chorégraphie : Avec : Paul Robeson (Jim Harris), Mary Blair (Ella Downey), Dora Cole (Hattie Harris), William Davis (Jim Harris, as a child), Charles EllisGeorge Finley (Shorty, as a child), Lillian Greene (Mrs. Harris), James Martin (Mickey), James Meighan (Organ Grinder), Malvin Myrck (Joe, as a child), Jimmy Ward (Mickey, as a child), Frank Wilson (Joe), Virginia Wilson (Ella Downey, as a child), Kirk Ames (Man), Barbara Benedict (Salvationist), Harold Bryant (Man), Grace Burns (Little Girl), Hume Derr (Woman), Oscar Flanner (Man), Lila Hawkins (Woman), Paul Jones (Man), Spurgon Lampert (Man), Alice Nelson (Little Girl), Clement O'Loghlen (Salvationist), Sadie Reynolds (Woman), Kathleen Roarke (Woman), James Shute (Man), John Taylor (Salvationist), Leslye Thomas (Woman), Mr. Waite (Man), Evelyn Wynn (Little Girl)Commentaires : Provincetown Playhouse (15 Mai 1924 - 5 Jul 1924)
Greenwich Village Theatre (18 Aout 1924 - 4 Oct 1924)En savoir plus sur cette version
All God's Chillun Got Wings (1929-06-Court Theatre-London)Type de série: Revival
Théâtre: Royal Court (Londres - Angleterre) Salle : Jerwood Theatre DownstairsDurée : 2 semaines Nombre : 24 représentationsPremière Preview : lundi 17 juin 1929Première : lundi 17 juin 1929Dernière : samedi 06 juillet 1929Mise en scène : Chorégraphie : Avec : Jim Henry Brown; Joe Edward Mensah; Shorty Robert Breed; Mickey John Denis; Jim Harris Frank H. Wilson; Shorty Neil Curtis; Joe Richard Huey; Mickey Ben Welden. Ella Sheila Maloney; Joe’s Sister Charlotte Brown; Mickey’s Sister Primrose Morgan; Mrs. Harris Emma Williams; Batty Anyce Frances; Ella Downey Beatrix Lehmann; Salvation Army Lass Irene Davis. Lic Alfred Turner; Lessor Barry Jackson; L, Dir C. Egerton Killick, Victor Payne-Jennings; Pd Peter Godfrey; Mus dir Philip Braham; Sm Alfred S. Barber; Asm Guy Buckley; Press rep Christopher Mann; Bom George A. Payne.En savoir plus sur cette version
All God's Chillun Got Wings (1933-04-Embassy Theatre-London)Type de série: Revival
Théâtre: Embassy Theatre (Londres - Angleterre) Durée : 3 semaines Nombre : 32 représentationsPremière Preview : lundi 03 avril 1933Première : lundi 03 avril 1933Dernière : samedi 29 avril 1933Mise en scène : Chorégraphie : Avec : Jim Harris Paul Robeson; Jim Harris (as child) Leonard Smoothey; Mickey Roy Emerton; Mickey (as child) Charles McBane; Shorty George Pughe; Shorty (as child) Cyril Rooney; Joe John Kennedy; Joe (as child) Alphonse Nolin; Extras Arthur Carino, Robert Chester, Arthur Chisholm, Colin Eaton, John Fay-Smith, A. Finlayson, Jack Hetherington, Marcus Insley, Wingold Lawrence, G. Martinengo, Donald Mickerson, Gordon Middleton, Harold Stern, John Stobart, Allan Thorpe, Trevor Ward, C. W. Carelton Crowe. Ella Downey Flora Robson; Ella Downey (as child) Joan Duan; Mrs. Harris Cicely Oates; Hattie Harris Marjory Clark; White Girl Mary Pugh; Black Girls Marjorie Pilkington, Tryphena Gay; Extras Barbara Allen, Rita Cave, Dorothy Dale, Margaret Dewar, Evie Evers, Betty Geary, Claire de la Grange, Zena Harcourt, Nora Loos, Patience Rentoul, Stephenie Rivers, Barbara Tallerman, Freda Grey.Commentaires : This current production was a limited engagement because of Paul Robeson’s previous American commitments.En savoir plus sur cette version
All God's Chillun Got Wings (1975-03-Circle in the Square Theatre-Broadway)Type de série: Revival
Théâtre: Circle in the Square Theatre (Broadway - Etats-Unis) Durée : 1 mois 2 semaines Nombre : 23 previews - 53 représentationsPremière Preview : vendredi 28 février 1975Première : jeudi 20 mars 1975Dernière : dimanche 04 mai 1975Mise en scène : George C. Scott • Chorégraphie : Avec : Ken Jennings (Shorty), Trish Van DeVere (Ella Downey), Jimmy Baio (Young Mickey), Verona Barnes (Street Person), Ginny BinderGrace Carroll (Street Person), Robert Christian (Jim Harris), Beatrice Dunmore (Child), Derrel Edwards (Child), Arthur French (Street Person), Minnie Gentry (Mrs. Harris), Tommy Gilchrist (Young Shorty), Robert Lee Grant (Young Joe), Susan Jayne (Young Ella), Helen Jennings (Child), Robert Earl Jones (Street Person), Alice Nagel (Street Person), Chuck Patterson (Wino), Tim Pelt (Joe), Kathy Rich (Child), Tom Sminkey (Mickey), Ted Snowdon (Street Person), Carl Thomas (Young Jim), Vickie Thomas (Hattie Harris), Craig Wasson (Harmonica Player)En savoir plus sur cette version
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