Sunday, July 04, 2010
The Octoroon: 7/3/2010
I finally got to see Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' The Octoroon: An Adaptation of The Octoroon Based on The Octoroon at PS122. As anyone who follows off-off Broadway may already know, the production has been plagued with problems. First, the show lost its original director, Gavin Quinn (co-founder of the Irish company Pan Pan). I assume this happened because the playwright didn't like what the director was doing with his script. At that point the playwright took over the directing duties and the production proceeded.
Next, on the eve of opening, an actor in the cast sent an e-mail (I assume to his private “list”) venting his frustration with the production, calling it a “trainwreck” and trashing the play and the playwright/director. Said email was then published on the Village Voice “blog” which seems to have been revived only to post this e-mail. Over one hundred comments followed that posting and a public scandal began.
What I didn't know until seeing the show last night was that the actor who sent the email actually departed the show along with another actor (the man in “red face” in many of the promotional photos for the show).
So what was left to present to an audience you may ask? Actually the show asked that same question, several times, throughout the seventy-five minutes on view at PS122. What I saw was a very smart, exploration, not only of this 19th Century play but of the creative process. I have no doubt what was presented was not the show Branden Jacobs-Jenkins envisioned when this journey began, but what he made of the hand that was dealt him was the theatrical version of turning lemons into lemonade. Many of the scenes that obviously we written for two actors were played with one, the playwright himself opened the show, playing the part of the native-american putting on “red face” while explaining the opening of the show, sealed envelopes with questions from the the playwright/director were delivered to the actors on stage, who would break character and answer the questions as themselves.
Bravo the the actors who remained with the show. They were all excellent and knew there was some very good and valuable work being done.
I hope this version of the show remains somewhere. It is as interesting a theatrical archive as The Octoroon itself. Perhaps under the title: The Octoroon: An Adaptation of The Octoroon Based on The Octoroon an Unintentional Deconstruction of The Octoroon.