Dobama Theatre presents An Octoroon
Dobama Theatre continues its 57th season with An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a modern deconstruction of Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon.
Premiering in 1859, The Octoroon was one of the most successful stage productions of its time. At one point, seven different theater companies toured the United States with their productions of the play. It is famous for sparking a national debate about the abolition of slavery and the role of political theater. But when its melodramatic depiction of the antebellum South is viewed from a modern perspective, it appears not only simplistic, but also somewhat racist.
Using Boucicault’s plot as a template, contemporary playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon critiques the earlier play’s depiction of race and confronts how theater interacts with identity. An Octoroon was the co-winner of the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play (along with another Jacobs-Jenkins’ play, Appropriate).
“Our country is trying very hard to have a conversation about race and equity,” said Nathan Motta, Dobama’s artistic director, who is directing this production. “Due largely to events in Ferguson, Cleveland, Houston, and many other communities, the United States is being forced to confront [its] history of violence and the reverberations that are very present today. An Octoroon makes us face our history, places it in a modern context, and shakes things up by forcing us to see, hear, feel, and ultimately talk about these issues.”
There will be pre-show and post-show discussions prior to and following every show. The pre-show conversation begins 20 minutes before curtain time. Motta explained the conversations this way: “We felt it was important to give audience members context for the play. Some of the moments in the play are shocking and will likely offend a modern audience. Giving background and a frame of reference as to how and why these theatrical tactics are used is imperative. It's in no way to apologize for the work, but rather to prepare an audience for the theater experience they are about to have. Theater can help start conversations that otherwise would not take place. That’s what we’re hoping for with this production.”
An Octoroon won accolades during its initial run. Ben Brantley, drama critic for The New York Times, said, “Strange as it seems, a work based on a terminally dated play from more than 150 years ago may turn out to be this decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.”
An Octoroon runs from Oct. 21 through Nov. 13, with a preview performance on Oct. 20. Preview tickets are $10, general admission.
For more information and to purchase tickets for any and all of this season’s productions, go to www.dobama.org or call the box office at 216-932-3396. Dobama Theatre is located at 2340 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights.
Jonathan Wilhelm is the associate managing director at Dobama Theatre.