Review: An Octoroon at Actor’s Express
“The brilliance of Branden Jacobs- Jenkins’ An Octoroon is that it plays on uncomfortability.”
Six Acts. Two Hours. No intermission. The MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adapts Dion Boucicault’s nineteenth century drama ‘The Octoroon’.
An Octoroon is about a playwright that examines his own ideas and struggles with race using the backdrop of the 1850s south. The play deconstructs the idea of modern theatre and race itself. An Octoroon adapts The Octoroon (Boucicault’s play) into an easily digestible format for modern audiences. It tells the story of George Peyton, a man that returns from London to find he’s inherited the plantation of a dying relative. Throughout the story he falls in love with an octoroon woman (someone who is an eighth black). Their story unfolds in a five act arc dedicated to “interracial relationships” and the life of an Octoroon.
An Octoroon toys with the idea of comfortability in more ways than one. Aside from the material itself, An Octoroon plays with the concept of time and engaging with the audience as another scene partner.
It forgoes the ninety-minute rule, in which most shows exceeding ninety minutes have two acts. It tests the attention span of the audience using humor. How long can you keep them interacting with this piece? How does it keep you following the story? Simply put, It keeps you on your toes. It’s funny, it’s depressing, and it makes you question everything you know.
The most interesting tool Jenkins chose to further illustrate An Octoroon, was face paint.
Jenkins deconstructs the idea of race by first, doing away with it. In the show’s prologue, the main character, BJJ (A nod to the playwright) uses white face paint to become a white man. This same painting “ritual” is used to transform one actor in to a black man and another into a native American man. An Octoroon brings something forbidden to light almost immediately, and your first reaction is to be offended… then you laugh.
That’s the genius of the piece but mainly the ingenious of this cast! Lead by Neal Ghant, this production is one of the best in Atlanta, thanks to its’ director, Donya K. Washington. Also starring Isake Akanke, Kylie Brown, Ryan Vo, Kyle Brumley, Curtis Lipsey, Brandy Sexton, Candy McLellan, Parris Sarter, Ashleigh Randolph, Tori Thompson, and Marc Anthony Toro.
This cast is active in their mission to keep you along for the ride. This is uncomfortable material, and is acknowledged as such in the show. Because it’s uncomfortable material, it’s understood if you must leave the show for any reason. But I’d strongly advise you stick around for the show’s final act, It was the part of the show I remember most vividly.
I won’t give the show away (it’s truly an experience), but I strongly suggest you see this cast! They’re open now through February 24th at Actor’s Express, you can buy tickets here!