DANVILLE -- The man who changed the face of American theater lived quietly in the hills above Danville.
"Who knows, he may have shown up at Elliott's Bar, but we have no proof of that," said Gary Schaub, of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation board. "It's more likely he didn't go; Carlotta (Monterey, Eugene O'Neill's wife) found the house so he'd have peace and quiet for writing."
Instead, the only noise might have come from Rosie, the bawdy house player piano, or the whisper of pen strokes across paper as O'Neill wrote out his most famous works in near-microscopic longhand. At Tao House, he wrote "The Iceman Cometh," "Long Day's Journey into Night" and "A Moon for the Misbegotten."
And that, in a nutshell, is why most of September (with a Tuesday preview at the Danville Library) is devoted to the Eugene O'Neill Festival, a celebration of the man's life and work in Danville.
At first, the town kept tangible references to O'Neill at arm's length -- mainly because there was a policy of not naming streets for people. Since then, the town has constructed a memorial park to the author across from the civic buildings.
And the Eugene O'Neill Society and Role Players Ensemble Theatre, along with the National Park Service, which named Tao House a National Historic Site, have kept the flame burning with new activities each year.
The festival this year has a couple of major highlights:
Production of two O'Neill plays, being billed as "O'Neill vs. O'Neill." They are the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Anna Christie" and the only mildly successful "Chris Christopherson," which is essentially the same story, only told in the classic 19th Century style, where Anna is a pure-hearted girl who must triumph over mistreatment at the hands of a cruel world.
O'Neill wrote "Christopherson" in 1920, and only a couple of years later he rewrote the story into the hugely successful "Anna Christie," which will be staged in the Village Theatre.
This year, the festival will not only present both plays but will have the same cast members playing the same roles in both shows, according to Role Players artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes. This is not only an acting challenge because the styles are so different, but a practical one, because many of the lines are quite similar, a huge difficulty for the actors.
A talk-back will be presented after each "Chris" production in the Old Barn at Tao House to discuss some of the unique problems of doing the shows in the way they are presented, and the different writing/acting styles.
Those who want yet more "Anna Christie" may attend a screening of the 1930 MGM film of the work the evening of Sept. 12 in Danville's Village Theatre. The movie stars Greta Garbo.
Michael Krasny, host of KQED morning radio's "Forum," will moderate "Modern Audiences/Classic Plays," a panel discussion focusing on the two plays at the festival, and how they are worked over to appeal to contemporary audiences, set for Sept. 22 in the Old Barn.
Directors and actors have altered Shakespeare plays for years, but the task is coming to other shows, from George Bernard Shaw to O'Neill, which originally ran between three and four hours and were paced much more slowly than contemporary dramas.
Discussing the issue will be Jasson Minadakis of Marin Theatre Co., Joy Carlin of Aurora Theatre, Trevor Allen of Black Box Theatre and Rob Melrose of Cutting Ball Theatre.
Activities at Tao House require scheduled Park Service van transportation from The Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave., Danville; 925-837-3750.
Individual tickets are sold. A $100 Festival Package includes Tao House and play admissions, discussions, the Michael Krasny panel and other events. Tickets sold at www.eugeneoneill.org.
N Aug. 27: "A Peek at O'Neill vs. O'Neill," presented by Role Players Ensemble Theatre artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes discussing festival plays. Danville Library, 420 Front St., 7 p.m. Free.
Sept. 12: 1930 film "Anna Christie" with Greta Garbo. 7 p.m. at Village Theatre, 233 Front St., Danville. Cost: $5 donation at door or www.RolePlayersEnsemble.com
Sept. 22: "Modern Audiences/Classic Plays" -- A playwright/director's panel discussion of the plays, moderated by KQED's Michael Krasny, at Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site at 2 p.m. Cost: $10 donation. Shuttle buses from Museum of the San Ramon Valley begin at 1 p.m.
Sept. 26-29: O'Neill's "Chris Christopherson" presented by Eugene O'Neill Foundation, directed by Eric Fraisher Hayes. Four shows at Tao House, evenings at 8 p.m., Sunday matinee 3 p.m. Shuttles from Museum of the San Ramon Valley. Tickets: $28 at www.eugeneoneill.org. or 925-820-1818
Sept. 27-28: Gala Champagne/Dessert reception for O'Neill's 125th birthday. Tao House. Reservation required with ticket purchase, $50, includes "Chris Christopherson" ticket, at www.eugeneoneill.org. Shuttles from Museum of the San Ramon Valley begin at 6:30 p.m.