An Octoroon

BY TAMAR NEUMANN: Mixed Blood Theatre’s opening show, An Octoroon, is a fitting show for the talents of Mixed Blood. Known for their plays on, about and for diversity, An Octoroon, fits right in. By way of a brief synopsis, An Octoroon is a play within a play (somewhat). It’s about a playwright who adapts an older play called The Octoroon. You get to meet both playwrights (of the current and former play) and you get to see the actual play, which is a melodrama about slavery and a woman who is 1/8 black. As I am trying to briefly write up this synopsis I am realizing that without a long, complicated explanation the play is not going to make much sense. So, I’ll leave the synopsis with this—the plot makes sense and moves you right through the action, with a few little fun surprises and twists along the way.

Jamila Anderson, Megan Burns with Aditi Kapil and Trevor Bowen

Megan Burns, left, and Jamila Anderson are in “An Octoroon.” (Courtesy Rich Ryan Photography)

Mixed Blood’s production of the play is solid. They have a pretty outstanding cast, with few weak pieces. Most of the actors are called upon to play various roles and they do so with grace and commitment. Because the play within a play is a melodrama the actors find the perfect pitch between taking themselves too seriously and allowing the comedy to take center stage. Jane Froiland, as Dora, is a perfect example of finding this balance. It’s hard to take her seriously, but her melodrama helps to throw a serious light on the characters and events happening around her. Both Jamila Anderson, as Dido, and Jasmine Hughes, as Minnie, should also receive special recognition for their portrayal of the two house slaves. Somehow they manage to take the lives of slaves and make them into a comedy routine. That’s partly thanks to the writing and partly thanks to the performances of Anderson and Hughes.

Because the play does have fun (and you will find yourself laughing through most of the play), the serious moments become all the more sobering. The director, Nataki Garrett, does a nice job of pacing the play so that the funny moments move right along and the serious moments are left for us to contemplate.  This is especially true in the fourth act when both playwrights come back on stage to explain and move the play along.

Perhaps the only negative note in the whole play, for this reviewer, was Br’er Rabbit. This character, played by Gregory Parks, was used as a way to transition between scenes. While, I won’t suggest that Parks did a poor job playing this character (he didn’t—his portrayal was quite good), I will say I struggled with the time it took up between scenes. It slowed the pace of the play in a negative way. But many people in the audience loved Br’er Rabbit, so I will leave it up to you to determine how you feel about the bunny.

Mixed Blood’s willingness to bring An Octoroon to the Twin Cities is just another testament of the vibrant theatre scene we have in the Cities. If you have a chance to see this play, take it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see great playwriting being performed, directed and produced by a top notch theatre.

 

An Octoroom, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. October 16-November 15, 2015 at the Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S 4th St, Minneapolis. Tickets $20 or first come first served free tickets with Radical Hospitality; purchase advanced tickets at at http://www.mixedblood.com/boxoffice or 612.338.6131.

 

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