Majestic Repertory’s ‘Octoroon’ is scathing view of race in US — VIDEO

Majestic Repertory Theatre’s Troy Heard describes melodrama as a theatrical form where “there is no gray zone. It’s white and black.”

But “An Octoroon” complicates the picture, and then some, to offer a scathing view of race in America, then and now.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ award-winning play — at Majestic Repertory through Nov. 18 — definitely “fits in with the theme” of the company’s “Revolutionary Season,” Heard notes. “It’s extraordinarily politically aware, if not politically correct.”

It’s also “easily the most difficult show I’ve ever tackled,” the director adds, describing it as “a white male’s interpretation of a black man’s reconstruction of a white man’s play about race.”

That’s because Jacobs-Jenkins, a 2016 MacArthur “genius” grant winner, based “An Octoroon” on Irish-born playwright Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama “The Octoroon.” (Note the change in title articles.)

The original focuses on the doomed romance between a Louisiana plantation owner and his beloved, who bears “the mark of Cain” because “one drop in eight” of her blood comes from a black ancestor.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ performers subvert the original, however, through code-switching, with black playwright BJJ (Jason Nious) donning whiteface to portray both plantation owner George, newly arrived from France, and the scheming, villainous overseer M’Closky.

Through the magic of the theater, Boucicault (Adam Dunson) also turns up — both as himself and, after applying red makeup, as Wahnotee, “the friendly neighborhood drunk Indian,” Heard notes. “It’s such a terrible stereotype.” (Boucicault himself played Wahnotee during “The Octoroon’s” 19th-century heyday, he adds.)

Speaking of terrible stereotypes, Boucicault’s assistant (Richie Villafuerte) dons blackface to play two plantation slaves — one old and deferential, one young and mischievous.

Three female slaves (Breanna McCallum, Jillian Austin and Destiny Faith), meanwhile, “talk like it’s 21st-century America,” Heard says — at least until white characters enter, at which time they revert to Uncle Remus-style dialect. (While we’re on the subject of Uncle Remus, Brer Rabbit also pops up from time to time, hopping around the stage — and into the audience.)

Watching the performers apply their racially identifying makeup during “An Octoroon’s” in-your-face opening scenes “makes the audience implicit in the action,” Heard explains, showing “the process to code-switch and transform.”

In the play’s opening scene, playwright BJJ — who notes that “most of my best friends are white” — ponders the complicated omnipresence of “the race problem in America.” That’s before he and Boucicault, who mysteriously materializes, engage in a spirited game of dueling F-bombs.

As “An Octoroon’s” action shifts to antebellum Louisiana, scenes unfold before old-fashioned backdrops reminiscent of 19th-century melodramas. (“THRILLING!” screams one that depicts black slaves picking cotton. Another, which shows a slave auction, shouts “SHOCKING!”)

Jacobs-Jenkins’ “writing is so strong — it’s hysterically funny,” Heard says. At the same time, “he peels back scabs and throws it right back in your face.”

As a result, “you’re very actively engaged with this show,” according to the director. “This is not something you can come and sit down and receive passively.” In other words, “if you want just a relaxed night at the theater,” don’t expect “An Octoroon” to fit the bill.

Heard wouldn’t be surprised if some audience members walk out rather than experience the gut punches that accompany the play’s caustic humor. Yet “people leaving is not a bad thing,” he reasons. “It shows that you provoke dialogue within them.”


■ What: “An Octoroon”

■ When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 18

■ Where: Majestic Repertory Theatre, 1217 S. Main St.

■ Tickets: $25 (

Contact Carol Cling at or 702-383-0272. Follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

Entertainment Videos
Arcade ‘speakeasy’ leads to secret door and Banksy art in Las Vegas
Arcade ‘speakeasy’ leads to secret door, Banksy art in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hazel in Las Vegas serves modern takes on traditional cocktails
Hazel serves modern takes on traditional cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas celebrates St. Patrick's Day
Tonight the city lit the Welcome sign green, McMullan's Irish Pub and the Guinness store also prepare for this weekend's St. Patrick's Day festivities. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Reuben sandwich at Served in Henderson, near Las Vegas
Matthew Meyer, chef/owner of Served, makes a Reuben sandwich with house-brined corned beef, house-made sauerkraut and gooey melted cheese at his restaurant in Henderson, outside Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas day club season returns with big-name DJs
Rick Ross, March 23, at Daylight Beach Club at Mandalay Bay The Chainsmokers, March 30, at Encore Beach Club Marshmello, April 6, Kaos Dayclub at the Palms Chuckie, May 11, Marquee Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Calvin Harris, May 11, Wet Republic at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Pizza expert Chris Bianco makes meatballs in Las Vegas
Chris Bianco, who was the keynote speaker at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, demonstrates meatball making for expo attendees. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas pulmonologist talks about new movie dealing with cystic fibrosis
Dr. Craig Nakamura, Director of Cystic Fibrosis Center of Southern Nevada, talks about the upcoming romantic drama “Five Feet Apart” where both of the lead characters suffer from cystic fibrosis. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
World Pizza Champion crowned in Las Vegas
At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Italian pizzaiolo Federico De Silvestri took the top prize and more than $12,000. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Italian wins Pizza Maker of the Year at Pizza Expo
Federico De Silvestri of Verona, Italy, wins the finals in the non-traditional pizza category during the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center Thursday, March 7, 2019. De Silvestri went on to beat winners from each of the four other categories — traditional, pan, pizza Napoletana and Roman — to win Pizza Maker of the Year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Good Pie Coming To Arts District
Local pizzaiolo Vincent Rotolo says Good Pie is coming to the Arts District. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local comedian says "It's ok to laugh, ...the comedy club is dark."
K-Von, a half-Persian comedian, talks about his style of comedy which keeps audiences entertained.
Pizza Dough Throwing Competition
Contestants participate in the World Pizza Games at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Wednesday night. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
World Pizza Games showcased in Las Vegas
The World Pizza Games, part of the International Pizza Expo, drew competitors from all over the world to Las Vegas to compete in events such as dough stretching and box folding. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Pizza competitors dazzle at international expo
The International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center included the first rounds of the World Pizza Games. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas showcases products and trends
At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, vegan and gluten-free menu choices and compostable packaging were highlighted, as well as Detroit-style and Roman-style pizza. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Chef Dan Krohmer talks about a new restaurant
Chef Dan Krohmer talks about the construction of his new restaurant at Fremont Street’s Fergusons Downtown complex in downtown Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Neon Museum lights up the Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign
The Neon Museum in Las Vegas flipped the switch on its latest acquisition Monday night, the Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
A Taste of Eataly Las Vegas
Executive Chef Nicole Brisson gives a tour around Eataly Las Vegas, located in the Park MGM. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Order a pretty purple cocktail at North Italia in Las Vegas
Order a pretty purple cocktail at North Italia in Las Vegas (Janna Karel/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Towering triple decker sandwich at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas
Jonah Resnick, executive chef of Sadelle’s, the newest restaurant at Bellagio in Las Vegas, serves a daunting concoction of roast beef layered with house-made cole slaw, turkey and more cole slaw, on rye bread. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Paris Las Vegas Debuts New Eiffel Tower Light Show
The Paris in Las Vegas unveiled its latest Eiffel Tower light show, Wednesday evening. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video: Las Vegas Omelet House Marks 40th anniversary
Omelet House at Charleston Boulevard and Rancho Drive in Las Vegas, which opened in 1979, is a locals’ favorite, known for fluffy six-egg omelets. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves readying new beer
Ryan Reaves, a forward with the Golden Knights, has plans for a second beer, a lager, through his 7Five Brewing Co. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Adds Lady Gaga To The Fountain Playlist
Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” has been added to the rotation of classic tunes played for the dancing waters at Lake Bellagio. The song debuted at 6 p.m. Monday. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Comedian uses laughter to bring understanding about AIDS
Comedian Brandon Cox Sanford talks about how he uses his comedy sketches to bring light to his AIDS diagnosis. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
20th anniversary of the House of Blues in Las Vegas
Sasha Rincon-Camacho, regional marketing director, talks about the 20th anniversary of the House of Blues in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Meow Wolf opening an 'otherworldly' art experience in Las Vegas
Meow Wolf opening "otherworldly" art experience in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New caneles pastries served at tea at Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas
Tony Gauthier, executive pastry chef at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, was trained to make caneles in Bordeaux in his native France, and they’re a new feature on the hotel’s afternoon tea. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Celebrate Margarita Day With The Hot Damn Margarita
Celebrate Margarita Day With The Hot Damn Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Yard House margarita changes color in the glass
The cocktail, as made by lead bartender Taylor Cole at Town Square in Las Vegas, changes from deep blue to magenta because of a chemical reaction between its butterfly pea flowers and citrus agave. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Home Front Page Footer Listing