An Octoroon

Posted in Arts, Forthcoming Media, Live Events, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2017-07-16 13:43Z by Steven

An Octoroon

Woolly Mammoth Theater
641 D Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Telephone: 202-393-3939

2017-07-17 through 2017-08-06

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Nataki Garrett

Last year’s most talked-about, most unforgettable production is returning to Woolly for a limited three-week run: An Octoroon by new MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins!

A plantation on the brink of foreclosure. A young gentleman falling for the part-black daughter of the estate’s owner. An evil swindler plotting to buy her for himself. Meanwhile, the slaves are trying to keep things drama-free, because everybody else is acting crazy.

An Octoroon, Jacobs-Jenkins’ Obie-winning riff on a 19th century melodrama that helped shape the debate around the abolition of slavery, is an incendiary adaptation. Part period satire, part meta-theatrical middle finger, it’s a provocative challenge to the racial pigeonholing of 1859—and of today.

Featuring company members Shannon Dorsey, Jon Hudson Odom, and Erika Rose

Two and a half hours, with one intermission

For more information, click here.

Tags: , , , ,

An Octoroon: Education Guide

Posted in Arts, History, Media Archive, Passing, Reports, Teaching Resources, United States on 2017-02-09 20:36Z by Steven

An Octoroon: Education Guide

The Wilma Theater
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2016
27 pages

Anne Holmes, Education Director
Lizzy Pecora, Education Assistant

BY Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
DIRECTED BY Joanna Settle
March 16 – April 10, 2016

Introduction

A NOTE FROM THE EDUCATION DIRECTOR

Thank you for choosing to bring your students to the Wilma’s production of An Octoroon, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. I applaud your willingness to take a risk on this one. While on some level we all understand that the most extraordinary learning opportunities emerge when we venture outside our comfort zone, most of us still gravitate toward what’s familiar and safe. An Octoroon promises to be a powerful catalyst for discussions around race, identity and stereotypes; if there’s a more urgent conversation we should be having with young people at this moment, I don’t know what that is. Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins has written a smart, intricately layered text to propel these discussions. Director Joanna Settle adds a live seven-piece band, with an original score composed in the rehearsal room alongside the actors, and dynamic step infused choreography to create a theatrical event big enough to encompass such a play. This is a risk worth taking.

If the Wilma were producing Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, the original 1859 melodrama upon which Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play is based, I would have a much tougher time arguing for its value in a high school classroom today. While Boucicault is still considered one of the great writers of the 19th century melodrama, there are so many cringe worthy moments throughout the play that it can feel like a minefield of political incorrectness. Similar questions have been raised about the value of reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 2016. I believe those concerns have validity and ignoring them would be irresponsible. What is it then about Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon that makes it different, particularly given that the playwright has preserved so much of Boucicault’s original text? The crucial difference is that Jacobs-Jenkins provides a meta-theatrical lens through which to view the play, forcing us to consider a contemporary critical perspective on what we are seeing and hearing. Beyond that, he never tells us what to think or feel, leaving us to navigate our own way through this unsettling play. At times it feels like an irreverent romp, delighting in its own theatricality and celebrating the craftsmanship of the great 19th century melodramas. There are moments when we can’t help but laugh and yet we’re not sure if laughing is really okay. In many ways, An Octoroon is so suited to the classroom because it repeatedly eschews easy answers, all the way up through the final moments of the play’s deliberate non-ending.

In this education guide we tried to focus on providing key historical background on Boucicault and his original melodrama, as well as introducing you to this astounding, two-time Obie Award Winning Playwright (Best New American Play for An Octoroon and Appropriate) Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. BJJ’s character breakdown page as well as Boucicault’s plot breakdown page should help with getting clarity on the basics. With this play in particular, Lizzy Pecora and I both found ourselves repeatedly drawn back to the written, video and podcast interviews with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins because we really wanted to hear from the playwright himself as much as possible. We’ve included most of our favorite links to those interviews in the appendix, but I would leave these for after your students have already seen or read the play, so as not to clutter their experience of it with too much imposed meaning. The In the Classroom section includes our suggestions for introducing the play with interactive lessons designed to engage students in discussion and get them making their own predictions about its content and themes.

Thanks again for agreeing to go on this ride with us. Your students are going to love you for it!…

Read the entire guide here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Meta-Melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-25 23:16Z by Steven

Meta-Melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon

Modern Drama
Volume 59, Number 3, Fall 2016
pages 285-305

Verna A. Foster, Professor of English
Loyola University Chicago

In adapting the nineteenth-century melodrama The Octoroon, Jacobs-Jenkins both satirizes Boucicault’s racial assumptions and emulates his aesthetic principles to produce a meta-melodrama, a play that at once celebrates and critiques its own form while providing a stinging indictment of racial attitudes in the twenty-first century. This essay draws on both the published script and audience responses to Soho Repertory Theatre’s two stagings of the play in 2014 and 2015 gleaned from reviews, blogs, and interviews. The contemporary context and cross-racial casting of An Octoroon ironize and adapt the meaning of Boucicault’s play, making it appropriate for the twenty-first century. Through his use of italicization, Brechtian quotation, the new contemporary dialogue he writes for the slave characters, and his shocking updated sensation scene, Jacobs-Jenkins induces his audience to question their own and each other’s racial reactions even as they are caught up in the play.

Tags: , , , ,

Theatre Review: ‘An Octoroon’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-19 18:16Z by Steven

Theatre Review: ‘An Octoroon’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Maryland Theatre Guide
2016-06-05

Jennifer Minich

We need to talk about An Octoroon: a razor-sharp, thought-provoking, radical, comical blast from the past. Playwright and DC native (bonus points) Branden Jacobs-Jenkins returns to Woolly Mammoth for the DC premiere of An Octoroon, an adaption of the 1859 melodrama, The Octoroon, by Anglo-Irish playwright Dion Boucicault.

The Octoroon is set at Terrebonne, a Louisiana plantation on the brink of financial ruin. When the new owner, George Peyton (Jon Hudson Odom), takes ownership of Terrebonne, he falls in love with his uncle’s illegitimate, one-eighth black daughter, Zoe (Kathryn Tkel). When the flailing plantation goes up for auction, and Zoe along with it, violence and chaos ensue…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , ,

An Octoroon

Posted in Arts, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-09 02:08Z by Steven

An Octoroon

Woolly Mammoth Theater
641 D Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
2016-05-30 through 2016-06-26

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Nataki Garrett

A plantation on the brink of foreclosure. A young gentleman falling for the part-black daughter of the estate’s owner. An evil swindler plotting to buy her for himself. Meanwhile, the slaves are trying to keep things drama-free, because everybody else is acting crazy.

An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Obie-winning riff on a 19th century melodrama that helped shape the debate around the abolition of slavery, is an incendiary adaptation that the New York Post called “entertainingly demented.” Part period satire, part meta-theatrical middle finger, it’s a provocative challenge to the racial pigeonholing of 1859—and of today.

As part of a special Connectivity initiative around An Octoroon, join DC area changemakers, thought leaders, activists and artists for a provocative series of engagement opportunities around every single performance of An Octoroon. We want to inspire conversation and reflection. We want to galvanize our audiences. That’s why we exist. That’s what we promise our community. Please visit our House Lights Up Events page for more information about these special events.

Tags: , ,

Reading Racist Literature

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2015-04-18 21:48Z by Steven

Reading Racist Literature

New Yorker
2015-04-13

Elif Batuman, Staff Writer

Of the many passages that gave me pause when I first read “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” in high school, the one I remember the most clearly is this conversation between Connie, Clifford, and the Irish writer Michaelis:

“I find I can’t marry an Englishwoman, not even an Irishwoman…”
“Try an American,” said Clifford.
“Oh, American!” He laughed a hollow laugh. “No, I’ve asked my man if he will find me a Turk or something…something nearer to the Oriental.”
Connie really wondered at this queer, melancholy specimen.

For many readers, this exchange might have slipped by unnoticed. But, as a Turkish American, I couldn’t prevent myself from registering all the slights against Turkish people that I encountered in European books. In “Heidi,” the meanest goat is called “the Great Turk.”…

…A few weeks later, I saw “An Octoroon,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s refashioning of the Irish playwright Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama of almost the same title (“The Octoroon”). (Jacobs-Jenkins was formerly on the staff of this magazine.) In an opening monologue, B. J. J., “a black playwright,” recounts a conversation with his therapist, about his lack of joy in theatre. When asked to name a playwright he admires, he can think of only one: Dion Boucicault. The therapist has never heard of Boucicault, or “The Octoroon.”

“What’s an octoroon?” she asks. He tells her. “Ah. And you like this play?” she says.

“Yes.”

This is the basic dramatic situation: a black playwright, in 2014, is somehow unable to move beyond a likeable 1859 work, named after a forgotten word once used to describe nonwhite people in the same terms as breeds of livestock. What do you do with your mixed feelings toward a text that treats as stage furniture the most grievous and unhealed insult in American history—especially when you belong to the insulted group?

Boucicault’s original script is set on a plantation, Terrebonne, shortly after the death of its owner, Judge Peyton. Peyton’s nephew, George, has just returned from Paris to take control of the property; he falls in love with Zoe, the judge’s illegitimate octoroon daughter, who has been raised as a member of the family. The villain M’Closkey, who has designs on both Terrebonne and Zoe, manages to have both put under the auctioneer’s hammer. The estate is eventually saved, by complex means involving an exploding steamship—but not before Zoe has poisoned herself in despair.

B. J. J., following his therapist’s advice, decides to restage “The Octoroon,” but white actors refuse to work with him: nobody wants to play slave owners. In the play within a play, B. J. J. puts on whiteface and acts both the hero George and the villain M’Closkey himself…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Review: ‘An Octoroon,’ a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Comedy About Race

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-02 01:18Z by Steven

Review: ‘An Octoroon,’ a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Comedy About Race

The New York Times
2015-02-26

Ben Brantley, Chief Theater Critic

Walking on a stage covered with cotton balls is a tricky business. It’s all too easy to slip into a pratfall. And forget about running or dancing or hopping like a bunny, as the characters sometimes unwisely attempt in “An Octoroon,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s coruscating comedy of unresolved history, which opened on Thursday night at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn.

But it feels right that the people occupying this production, first seen last year at Soho Rep, should be required to move on what might be called terra infirma. For Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins has deliberately built his play on slippery foundations, the kind likely to trip up any dramatist, performer or theatergoer.

“An Octoroon,” you see, is all about race in these United States, as it was and is and unfortunately probably shall be for a considerable time. That’s race as a subject that no one can get a comfortable hold on.

Directed by Sarah Benson, in a style that perfectly matches its mutating content, “An Octoroon” is a shrewdly awkward riff on Dion Boucicault’sThe Octoroon” (notice the change in article), a 19th-century chestnut about illicit interracial love. Boucicault’s melodrama was a great hit in its day but is now almost never performed, except possibly as a camp diversion for private amusement.

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , ,

One Playwright’s ‘Obligation’ To Confront Race And Identity In The U.S.

Posted in Arts, Audio, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-02-18 03:25Z by Steven

One Playwright’s ‘Obligation’ To Confront Race And Identity In The U.S.

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
All Things Considered
National Public Radio
2015-02-16

Jeff Lunden

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins may be only 30 years old, but he’s already compiled an impressive resume. His theatrical works, which look at race and identity in America, have been performed in New York and around the country. Last year, Jacobs-Jenkins won the best new American play Obie Award for two of his works, Appropriate and An Octoroon.

An Octoroon is currently playing at Theater for a New Audience in New York…

…Over the past five years, the young playwright has written a trilogy of highly provocative and fantastical explorations of race in America. In Neighbors, a family of minstrels in blackface moves in next to a contemporary mixed-race family. In Appropriate, a white family discovers their dead father belonged to the KKK. His latest, An Octoroon, is a loose adaptation of a play written more than 150 years ago that deals with identity and race.

“They are all kind of like me dealing with something very specific, which has to do with the history of theater and blackness in America and form,” he says. “And also, my obligation, as a human being with regards to any of these themes.”

It is Jacob-Jenkins’ self-examination that drove Ben Brantley, the chief drama critic for The New York Times, to rank An Octoroon on the top of his best pays list last year. He saw it at Soho Rep, a tiny off-Broadway theater.

“[Jacobs-Jenkins] starts off from self-consciousness, which you would think would be a crippling place for a playwright to begin,” Brantley says.”But his self-consciousness isn’t just particular; it’s national, it’s universal. And it’s the self-consciousness of realizing that we don’t have the vocabulary, the tools to discuss race.”

The play, based on a 1859 melodrama by the Irish-Anglo playwright Dion Boucicault, tells the story of a young man who’s about to inherit a plantation and falls in love with a woman who is an octoroon — seven-eighths white, one-eighth black.

Director Sarah Benson points out that, in the original, all the parts had to be played by white actors…

Read the entire article here. Listen to the story here. Download the audio here. Read the transcript here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

What is Dion Boucicault’s THE OCTOROON?

Posted in Arts, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Videos on 2014-11-23 20:18Z by Steven

What is Dion Boucicault’s THE OCTOROON?

The Soho Repository
New York, New York
2014-03-17

James Leverett, Professor (Adjunct) of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism
Yale School of Drama

Professor of Dramatic Criticism James Leverett from The Yale School of Drama joins us in this video to give context and background to Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama The Octoroon. In our next mainstage play, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has radically reshaped the original to dizzying meta-theatrical effect.

Boucicault’s play courted immediate controversy when it debuted in the US. The play examines race, slavery, gender, and the 19th century’s perception of these themes; in other words, a prime play for Jacob-Jenkins (author of the blistering Neighbors and current Appropriate at Signature Theatre) to explore.

Tags: , , , ,

Returning to an ‘Impossible’ Role

Posted in Articles, Arts, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-23 19:27Z by Steven

Returning to an ‘Impossible’ Role

The New York Times
2014-04-23

Alexis Soloski

Amber Gray on ‘An Octoroon,’ at Soho Rep

Leaning against an upright piano, Amber Gray bent her voice and body to a song’s harmonies — tapping her feet, drumming her fingers, bowing her head, and turtling her chin forward and back.

A restless, dynamic performer, Ms. Gray recently appeared as the scheming Hélène in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” She was now rehearsing for a much more innocent role: the title character of “An Octoroon” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

A disquieting adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s controversial 1859 melodrama, which opens on May 4 at Soho Rep, the play centers on a tragic love affair between the heir to a Louisiana plantation and Ms. Gray’s Zoe. Though raised as a decorous Southern lady, Zoe is one-eighth black, an inheritance that condemns her to the slave auction block.

After her musical rehearsal at the New 42nd Street Studios, Ms. Gray, who has the sort of careless glamour that can make a Baja jacket and acid-washed jeans seem very nearly elegant, retired to a futon in the green room. She spoke with Alexis Soloski about terrifying musicals, biracial identity and playing a difficult scene. These are excerpts from the conversation…

…What was it like to grow up as a biracial child overseas?

I was too young to really understand a lot of it. In the military school systems, kids were mean. People would call me mulatto all the time. My dad was like: “Don’t let people call you that. Say that you’re mixed. Say that you’re biracial.” My parents were really careful with me. They were clear that you can’t separate out the two sides. You’d be denying half of yourself if you did.

Before you became involved with “An Octoroon,” did you read the 1859 version?

I did. I got really emotional reading it. It struck a chord. Most other mixed and biracial people I know have at least one secret or lie in their family, have at least one person who is choosing to pass or is passing and doesn’t even know it. That theme is so common. I have a half sister who didn’t know she was half black until she was 11. I’m interested in telling these stories because it is my family’s history…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , , , , ,