Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
In addition to being wickedly funny, An Octoroon deploys a cornucopia of theatrical tricks that surprise and delight, plus several that may offend. An African-American actor in whiteface plays both the hero and the villain (sometimes simultaneously), as well as the playwright himself. A white actor in redface plays a stereotypical Indian, and a Latino actor in blackface plays two black slave stereotypes. The fourth wall is broken, the "house" slaves talk in modern jargon, the playwright himself interrupts the action, and the theatre catches fire. Even Br'er Rabbit makes a cameo.
Under Troy Heard's direction, the craziness works. The silly conceits provoke laughter (uncomfortable at times), but the horror of slavery remains front and center, along with blatantly racist attitudes toward Native Americans.
Jason Nious is outstanding in the triple role of playwright Jacob-Jenkins, hero George Peyton, and villain Jacob M'Closky. Nious is an expressive performer with a beautiful speaking voice and a commanding stage presence. Despite the play's absurdity, Nious conveys deep feelings that keep the audience emotionally grounded.
Among other strong performers, Adam Dunson shows remarkable versatility and natural stage presence in the multiple roles of Boucicault, Wahnotee the stereotypical Indian, and Lafouche the auctioneer. Another chameleon-like performer, Richie Villafuerte, gives the most unsettling performance of the evening, portraying, in blackface, two outrageous stereotypes of black slaves. As Dora the stereotypical southern belle, Adriana Chavez is cartoonishly fun. Breanna McCallum shines as the warm and ever-practical house slave Minnie. As Zoe, the "octoroon" of the title, Tiana Jones gives a natural and soulful performance, although it pales somewhat against the theatricality and stage presence of the actors who surround her.
Some will be offended by the racial stereotypes that permeate the play. Others will see in them the playwright's desire to empower the victims of such stereotyping through satire, much as Simon Tam sought to empower Asian Americans by naming his band "The Slants." As a result, An Octoroon may please some audiences while alienating others. It's a bold choice for Majestic Repertory.
An Octoroon continues through November 19, 2017 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 5 pm) at Alios, 1217 S. Main St., Las Vegas, NV. For tickets ($25 general admission) and other information, go to www.majesticrepertory.com.