Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

An Octoroon
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Mark of Cain and Cabaret


Jon Hudson Odom, Maggie Wilder, and Kathryn Tkel
Photo by Scott Suchman
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington has brought its incendiary 2016 production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' An Octoroon back for a three-week encore run, featuring all but one of the original cast members (Felicia Curry replaces Jade Wheeler, who's appearing across town in The Originalist) and Nataki Garrett's no-holds-barred direction. Bluntly stated, this play will mess with an audience, with its multiple examinations of racial identity—and it's funny, too.

The house-of-mirrors aspect starts with Jon Hudson Odom as the playwright's stand-in, questioning the responsibilities of a "black playwright" and sharing his fascination with The Octoroon, a plantation-based melodrama from 1859 written by Anglo-Irish playwright Dion Boucicault. As a form of therapy, he decides to retell the play's story of a tragic romance between a young plantation owner and his cousin, an octoroon (one-eighth black), using a blend of old and new theatrical tricks. Odom puts on whiteface—white like a mime—and a blond wig to play both George, the young master, and his nemesis, the evil M'Closky.

Boucicault's ghost soon appears (James Konicek in baggy long underwear) and applies redface makeup to play the Indian character Wahnotee, which the real Boucicault did in 1859. He brings along a white assistant (Joseph Castillo-Midyett) who plays two minstrel-show slave characters in blackface. Jarring? Shocking? Sure, but it's only part of what's going on.

Kathryn Tkel brings out the real pathos of Zoe, a woman who (in her time) can never really fit into either white or black society, through her character's florid protestations. On the other hand, Maggie Wilder is a delightful goof as Dora, heiress to a neighboring plantation and very interested in snagging George for herself. (As a bonus, Ivania Stack has costumed Wilder in absurdly wide hoop skirts.) Two house slaves prefer to tell it like it is: Minnie (Shannon Dorsey), who does as little work as possible, and Dido (Erika Rose), who picks up the slack.

If all that isn't enough, Jacobs-Jenkins and his stand-in keep things moving with commentary about 19th-century drama, from the use of coincidence that just happens to reveal the solution to a mystery to the importance of spectacle that may have little to do with the plot.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
An Octoroon
July 18th - August 6th, 2017
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
BJJ/George/M'Closky: Jon Hudson Odom
Playwright/Wahnotee/Lafouche: James Konicek
Assistant/Pete/Paul: Joseph Castillo-Midyett
Zoe: Kathryn Tkel
Dora: Maggie Wilder
Minnie: Shannon Dorsey
Dido: Erika Rose
Grace: Felicia Curry
Br'er Rabbit/Ratts: Jobari Parker-Namdar
Musician: Katie Chambers
Directed by Nataki Garrett
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


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