Definition Theatre returns with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' An Octoroon, an in-your-face reworking of the 1859 melodrama by Dion Boucicault. In the play, a plantation owner falls in love with a girl who is one-eighth black. This hilarious and shocking production features one of the finest ensembles of the year.
The surprising and pointed production is directed perfectly by Chuck Smith, who injects the historical farce with powerful energy while allowing his actors to showcase both their comedic and dramatic capabilities. Ariel Richardson is perfection; Sydney Charles is hilarious; Breon Arzell holds the entire production on his shoulders and he rises to the challenge well. The production also boasts stunning costumes, designed by Kristy Hall. Though the scenic design by Andrew Boyce is simple, it serves the play well.
An Octoroon is excessive and confounding. The audience, an even mix of young people of color and the older white faces that so typically fill out our theatres, remained immersed despite the challenging elements of the production. Though the 2.5 hour run time is a tad long, the stamina of those on stage will keep most theatregoers' enthusiastic attention.
Definition's newest offering is a subversive and shocking take on race in the America of yesterday and today. Both hilarious and heartbreaking, An Octoroon should make the Chicago theatre community very proud.
Review by Jason Berger
An Octoroon continues at Victory Gardens through August 20th. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheateInChicago's Review Round Up.