|Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-09 15:31Z by Steven|
The Washington Post
Peter Marks, Theater critic
Jon Hudson Odom, left, as George, Maggie Wilder, center, as Dora and Kathyrn Tkel as Zoe in “An Octoroon.” (Scott Suchman)
“Hi, everyone, I’m a black playwright!” the actor Jon Hudson Odom exclaims at the outset of “An Octoroon,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s acerbically virtuosic skewering of America’s perpetually festering racial anxieties.
Before long, Odom, shedding the guise of the dramatist — who goes by the initials “BJJ” — is applying white-face makeup to portray the roles of both the altrustic heir to a broke Southern plantation and his racist archnemesis, in the “black playwright’s” new version of a 19th-century slavery melodrama. “I couldn’t find any more white guys to play the white guys’ parts,” BJJ confesses, explaining that white guys have qualms these days about embodying people who own other people. He’s unapologetic, though, about having his assistant (Joseph Castillo-Midyett) put on blackface to play house slave Pete, while the white Irish author of the original melodrama (James Konicek) materializes to smear on garish red makeup to become the Native American character, Wahnotee.
Jacobs-Jenkins, a Washington-born playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist this year for his tragicomic workplace drama “Gloria,” is looking with a jaundiced eye in “An Octoroon” at the mechanics of “The Octoroon,” the 1859 “sensation drama” by Dion Boucicault that inspired Jacobs-Jenkins’s play. Simultaneously he’s highlighting the collective skittishness of our time over labels and racial identity and who has permission to say what about whom. By placing black actors in whiteface and Latino actors in blackface and white actors in redface, he’s forcing the rest of us to consider in the starkest terms the impact of society’s relentless color-sorting — conscious or otherwise…
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