I'm not going to describe the plot of the play to you; it's one of those things you just have to see for yourself (and you should). Suffice it to say, this adaptation actually hews quite close to the original in the middle play-within-a-play bit, in which a kindly slave owner dies and leaves his kindly wife and heir with no money to save the plantation or its slaves, including the kindly dead slave owner's octoroon daughter whom his wife loves and they both treat like a daughter (because that happened). But before we get to all of that, the "black playwright" sets the scene by telling us the origins of this play, and why he was forced to play all the white male parts himself. Then the play begins, done in an exaggerated melodramatic style that points out the silliness of this depiction of the Old South, complete with piano accompaniment to heighten the mood (beautifully and cleverly composed and performed by Eric Mayson). In the fourth act of the play-with-a-play, the playwright and some of the other actors break out of character to describe the scene that's too difficult to stage, and to offer commentary on it. It's all very meta, and also offers some comments on theater itself (as well as some nifty pyrotechnics).
Director Nataki Garrett somehow keeps all of these timelines and realities moving together smoothly and making sense, and the cast fully commits to the melodrama of the piece. William Hodgson gives several excellent performances - as the playwright and both the kindly slaveowner's heir and the evil slaveowner, sometimes playing multiple characters in one scene, and even having a fight with himself (kudos again to Annie Enneking for her fight choreography). Jon Andrew Hegge is ridiculous (in the best way) as the Irish playwright in redface; Ricardo Vázquez portrays every stereotype of blackface; Jamila Anderson, Chaz Hodges, and Jasmine Hughes are amusing as the modern-talking slave women; and Jane Froiland is an absolute hoot as the stereotypical and overly dramatic Southern Belle. Megan Burns as the titular octoroon Zoe is the straight woman in this crazy scene, bringing dignity and humanity to her character. Last but not least, I'm not sure what Br'er Rabbit has to do with any of this, but Gregory Parks is nimble and slightly creepy in that oversized rabbit head (with movements delightfully punctuated by the aforementioned Eric Mayson's music).
|William Hodgson and Megan Burns (photo by Rich Ryan)
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.