“An Octoroon” is a play that makes you laugh, and really think about what it is you’re laughing at. The play, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, ran from October 26th to November 5th in the Queens College Goldstein Theater. The play is about a Louisiana plantation on the brink of bankruptcy, and the cast of characters doing their best to deal with the impending financial collapse.
The play also played with race in a way that was particularly tongue-in-cheek: there was a character in blackface, another in “whiteface,” and another in “redface.” The play made me uncomfortable, but that was precisely its goal; by the end of the show, one character told the audience that they hoped they made us “feel something.” Indeed, the play very much succeeded in making me analyze the ways in which I think about race and how racism affects people in different ways.
An interesting quality of the play was its transparency, the breaking of the fourth wall. It was a really interactive experience—the characters often spoke directly to the audience, and a character even came and sat next to a member of the audience to engage in conversation. At times, it felt more like I really was in the 1900s, a voyeur of the times. The director and actors clearly put in a lot of effort to make the play more like an experience, rather than a show for audience members to simply watch and sit through. Overall, the actors were successfully able to transport the audience into the story, not only working beautifully as an ensemble, but even when performing their own monologues.
While I did enjoy the interactive nature of the play, I did not particularly appreciate the pacing. There were a few plot points that I didn’t understand, and it didn’t help that the play was so fast-paced that there was no time to absorb what had just happened. The pacing was definitely slower during the second act, but most of the action took place during the first act. At times, it felt like everything was happening so quickly, and I became overwhelmed. It’s possible that this may have been a purposeful choice on the part of the playwright, but it certainly took away from my ability to sincerely follow the story. Nonetheless, this small error is not to take away from the actors, who put on an amazing performance.
Overall, “An Octoroon” was a great experience and more people should absolutely come out and support the work of fellow Queens College students.