Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The house-of-mirrors aspect starts with Jon Hudson Odom as the playwright's stand-in, questioning the responsibilities of a "black playwright" and sharing his fascination with The Octoroon, a plantation-based melodrama from 1859 written by Anglo-Irish playwright Dion Boucicault. As a form of therapy, he decides to retell the play's story of a tragic romance between a young plantation owner and his cousin, an octoroon (one-eighth black), using a blend of old and new theatrical tricks. Odom puts on whitefacewhite like a mimeand a blond wig to play both George, the young master, and his nemesis, the evil M'Closky.
Boucicault's ghost soon appears (James Konicek in baggy long underwear) and applies redface makeup to play the Indian character Wahnotee, which the real Boucicault did in 1859. He brings along a white assistant (Joseph Castillo-Midyett) who plays two minstrel-show slave characters in blackface. Jarring? Shocking? Sure, but it's only part of what's going on.
Kathryn Tkel brings out the real pathos of Zoe, a woman who (in her time) can never really fit into either white or black society, through her character's florid protestations. On the other hand, Maggie Wilder is a delightful goof as Dora, heiress to a neighboring plantation and very interested in snagging George for herself. (As a bonus, Ivania Stack has costumed Wilder in absurdly wide hoop skirts.) Two house slaves prefer to tell it like it is: Minnie (Shannon Dorsey), who does as little work as possible, and Dido (Erika Rose), who picks up the slack.
If all that isn't enough, Jacobs-Jenkins and his stand-in keep things moving with commentary about 19th-century drama, from the use of coincidence that just happens to reveal the solution to a mystery to the importance of spectacle that may have little to do with the plot.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company