‘An Octoroon’ at The Unicorn tests stereotypes with on stage race reversal

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hatchetCynthia Levin and courtesy of The Unicorn Theatre

The Unicorn unveiled “An Octoroon,” Saturday, Dec. 3 and opened the audience’s eyes wide when Rufus Burns strode front and center wearing only tight-fitting boxer briefs to deliver the opening speech of the play and setting up the audience for the parade of black and white stereotypical jabs, barbs, and racial sarcasm that follows as the play unfolds.

slavesCynthia Levin and courtesy of The Unicorn Theatre

The Unicorn Theatre best described the overall effect of “An Octoroon” as a piece that , “transforms a 19th century plantation melodrama with a beautiful maiden, Indians, and slaves into a theatrical event that is equally hilarious and moving, subversive and provocative. Part period satire, part meta-theatrical middle finger, it’s a shocking challenge to the racial pigeonholing of 1859–and of today.”

For the sake of the uninformed, an octoroon is a person who is 1/8 Black; an quadroon is a person who is 1/4 Black; a person who is ½ Black is a mulatto. So, even the title points to the racial aspects of the play to follow.

slave_auctionCynthia Levin and courtesy of The Unicorn Theatre

The play features a cast of 8 who portray several characters. Directed by Damron Russel Armstrong, the play features Rufus Burns as BJJ/George/M’Closky, Logan Black as Playwright/Wahnotee/Lafouche, Michael Thayer as Assistant/Pete/Paul, Cinnamon Schultz as Dora, Jessica Franz as Zoe, Rasheedat Badejo as Minnie, Amber McKinnon as Dido, Tisha M. Backstop as Grace, and Peter Morgan as Brier Rabbit/Rates, according to The Unicorn.

Expect the best from this cast and crew.  They provide lots of laughs and their polished performances just keep the audience transfixed.  The plot and character change, so the audience needs to pay close attention to the melodrama unfolding befor them.  Armstrong’s grasp of the characters,  provided pricelsss thoughts and discussion to the stereotypes, the nuances, and the absurdity when they contrast 1800 with 2016.  Producing artistic director, Cynthia Levin chose wisely when she handed the reigns to Armstrong.  It’s hard to believe anyone but Armstrong could direct this piece that lampoons so many stereotypes and allow the audience to laugh but also reel against them. What was acceptable in 1859 somewhat still exists in 2017 when thinking about some of the stories from the recent Presidential election. Armstrong confronts those stereotypes with an “in your face” style that does not offend, but shows the changes over time.

All of the majors in the cast give memorable and well-developed characterizations.  They are all to be commended for creating a beautiful ensemble piece.  They make the sarcasm and aburdity more pointed with what they bring to the play.

rufus_logan_2Bob Evans | KC Applauds

One of the most fun parts of the play springs from conversations between, Rasheedat Badejo as Minnie and Amber McKinnon as Dido. Minnie speaks mostly is the dialogue of 200 years ago while McKinnon wags her finger, shakes her head and speaks in 2016 with heavy attitude and tonal speech. Those scenes poke the most fun at the stereotyped speech patterns.

Another part so much fun is Black actors in white-face and white actors in black-face and red-face. It’s confusing, but so much fun. And as for fun, the audience sees the fun on the characters’ faces as they deliver the lines. Cinnamon Schultz portrays Dora the Southern belle. Each step and bounce with her hooped skirt and flounces brings smiles. Perhaps she is the source of the phrase “dumb Dora.” As for the character of the Octoroon, Jessica Franz portrays the poor damsel in distress melodramatic type as a Mary Pickford type from The Perils of Pauline films before the advent of sound. Franz plays the perfect victim, caught in a situation she never controlled. She’s funny.

rufus_jessCynthia Levin and courtesy of The Unicorn Theatre

Not enough can be said about the two leads, Rufus Burns and Logan Black. Each delivers a character not seen from them–ever. After seeing them perform in other works, this pushed them to create and deliver something very different from them, fresh, and full of depth. Everyone will enjoy their performances.

“An Octoroon” performs on Unicorn Theatre’s Levin Stage located at 3828 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64111. The show runs November 30 – December 26, 2016. Previews are November 30, December 1 and 2. A Featured Friday pre-show event is scheduled for December 9 at 7 p.m. Talk back performances, where patrons are encouraged to stay after the show and discuss the play with the actors and director, are scheduled for December 6, 11 and 18. Performances run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.

If you are unable to afford a ticket, you may Pay What U Can at performances on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, because we believe art is for everyone. The week of Christmas, there will be a Monday performance on December 19 at 7:30 p.m. There will be no performances on December 24 and 25. The closing performance will be on Monday, December 26 at 7:30 p.m.

cin_and_rufus_3-satCynthia Levin and courtesy of The Unicorn Theatre

Tickets are now on sale. Call 816-531-PLAY (7529) EXT. 10, go online at The Unicorn website or buy in person at the box office located at 3828 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111. Special discounts are available for seniors (65+), students, and patrons under age 30.

 

Tags: Theater, Performing Arts, Arts & Entertainment. The Unicorn Theatre, Kansas City, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, “An Octoroon”, Comedy

rabbitCynthia Levin and courtesy of The Unicorn Theatre

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