This week, the Voice published a preview of “The Octoroon: An Adaptation of The Octoroon Based on The Octoroon,” a new version of Dion Boucicault’s melodrama adapted by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. We wrote that, despite the intervening decades and the massive upheavals in racial politics and theatrical performance, “the play’s conversation about race and identity remains timely and affecting.”
Or not. After a falling out between the playwright and Irish director Gavin Quinn, after which Jacobs-Jenkins has assumed direction, the Voice has heard rumors of a rehearsal room difficulties. These seem confirmed by a recent e-mail from a cast member inviting his friends to the show:
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I would like to invite you to a trainwreck — “The Octoroon: An Adaptation of The Octoroon Based on The Octoroon” — an adaptation of a 19th Century melodrama by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault about the romance between a white man and a woman who is 1/8th black (an octoroon), which includes several newly penned slave scenes by playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and some stunt racial casting (white actors playing black guys, Native American actors in black face, etc).
The details of how this train wrecked form a long and complicated story which we can gossip over in private, suffice it to say that our original director Gavin Quinn (of Pan Pan, an Irish theatre company who have been making amazing work since 1991) had to quit, citing artistic differences with our playwright Branden Jacob- Jenkins (who has been making theatre since a year ago or so).
So now the play has transformed from an engaging piece of contemporary theatre directed by Gavin Quinn to a piece of crap that wouldn’t hold a candle to some of the community theater I did in high school, directed by Branden Jacob-Jenkins.
The only thing I can say about all of this is that I am ashamed to be in this play.
I had written a whole bunch of other stuff about why this show is now so shallow both in conceit and execution and why working with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is awful to the point of being insulting — but then I read Isherwood’s review in the New York Times of BJJ’s last play “Neighbors” and he summed it up pretty nicely:
“But sorting out Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins’s intentions is probably a fruitless exercise. The play’s undisciplined writing undermines its pretensions to cultural satire, to say nothing of its pretensions to sociological tragedy. “Neighbors” — or “N(e)ig(h)g (bo)ers” — is a lot more punishing than it is provocative.”
Well put, Isherwood. Well put.
The only good thing I can say is that enough of the play was cut yesterday to reduce its running time from over 2 and half hours to 90 minutes. So there will be less suffering for all of us.
Links and info below. We open for previews this Saturday and Sunday (the 19th and 20th) and then start our full run on Wednesday the 23rd thru July 3rd.
Here are discount codes:
FF15 = $15 tickets
FF241 = 2 tickets for $10 each
We’ll let that speak for itself.