THEATERMANIA: The Emperor Delivers Truth in the Blurred Line Between Story and History

By Hayley Levitt

The layered legacy of Ryszard Kapuściński’s journalism-adjacent novel The Emperor imposes a complex set of expectations on its latest stage adaptation, a two-person play written by Colin Teevan and making its New York premiere at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center (a coproduction with the Young Vic in London, where it made its world premiere in 2016).

In 1974, Kapuściński set off to Ethiopia to interview remaining members of emperor Haile Selassie’s royal court to document — through both facts and dramatized fiction — the downfall of Selassie’s 44-year regime. The book, however, is as well known for its allegorical criticism of Kapuściński’s Polish government (led by communist politician Edward Gierek) as for its insights into the corrupt machinations of the dethroned Ethiopian ruler.