Casting is complete and rehearsals begin this week for the Los Angeles premiere of a radical, incendiary and subversively funny Obie award-winning play by MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Performances of An Octoroonwill inaugurate the new outdoor stage at The Fountain Theatre on June 18. Performances will continue through Sept. 19, with four public previews set for June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16, and a special press preview on June 17.
Judith Moreland directs Jacobs-Jenkins’s outrageous deconstruction of a moustache-twirling melodrama by 19th century playwright Dion Boucicault. Matthew Hancock (LADCC, Stage Raw and Ovation award-winner for Hit the Wall at the L.A. LGBT Center, previously seen at the Fountain in Between Riverside and Crazy, Hype Man, The Brothers Size, I and You) stars as a modern-day Black playwright struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He decides to adapt his favorite play, Boucicault’s The Octoroon, an 1859 melodrama about illicit interracial love.
The Black playwright quickly realizes that getting White, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy… so, he decides to play the White male roles himself — in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. A highly stylized, theatrical, melodramatic reality is created to tell the story of an octoroon woman (a person who is one-eighth Black) and her quest for identity and love.
The cast includes Rob Nagle (Human Interest Story at the Fountain, The Judas Kiss at Boston Court) as Boucicault; Hazel Lozano (America Adjacent at the Skylight, Othello at Griot Theatre) as the production assistant; Mara Klein (The Judas Kiss at Boston Court, Sucker Punch at Coeurage) as the octoroon, Zoe; and Vanessa Claire Stewart (Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara at the Geffen, Finks at Rogue Machine) as Dora, a rich Southern belle in love with the plantation owner (who is also played by Hancock). Meanwhile, Leea Ayers(BLKS at Steppenwolf, Incendiary at the Goodman Theatre), Kacie Rogers(NAACP award-winner for No Place to be Somebody at Robey Theatre Company and An Accident at Griot Theatre Company; The Heal at Getty Villa) and Pam Trotter (And Her Hair Went With Her at the Fountain, national tour of The Color Purple) portray three startlingly modern slave women.
An Octoroon brutally satirizes racial stereotypes in a funny and profoundly tragic whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at, laugh at, and be shattered by America’s racist history.
“The more you experience this play, the more it turns into something else,” says Moreland. “It’s an extraordinary piece of theater — hilarious, but also shocking, profound, moving… and designed to provoke and offend. We have a terrific group of actors who are completely game and up for the challenge. It’s a celebration of how theater can both move you and change lives.”
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program, commonly but unofficially known as the “Genius Grant,” awards no strings attached cash prizes to individuals who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The website described Jacobs-Jenkins as “a playwright [who draws] from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class and race. Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings. Although the provocation of his audience is purposeful, Jacobs-Jenkins’s creation of unsettling, shocking, often confrontational moments is not gratuitous; these elements are of a piece with the world he has established on stage and in the service of the story he is telling.”
The Fountain’s outdoor stage is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, Barbara Herman, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Rabbi Anne Brener, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Miles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.
The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally.
An Octoroonruns June 18 through Sept.19, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., except Saturday, June 19, which will be at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a special Juneteenth event, and July 30 through Aug. 2 and Aug. 27 through Aug. 30 which will be dark. Four preview performances will take place on June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16 at 7 p.m. There will be one press preview on Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
Kinetic energy charged with emotion. That describes Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water presented by The Fountain Theatre. The location of this acclaimed, vibrant, nonprofit performance space in a humble Los Angeles neighborhood foreshadows the economic reality of the play’s kaleidoscopic mix of characters traversing the stage. In this context, McCraney’s play represents a microcosm of shattered dreams and unrealized potential within the larger world.
Treading In the Brown and Red Water, the audience descends into the protagonist’s depths. Set in an impoverished section of the fictional San Pere, Louisiana, Diarra Kilpatrick’s Oya is a passionate runner who abandons a college track scholarship to take care of her dying mother, Mama Mojo, played by Peggy A. Blow. In the process of losing her dreams, she escapes into a fiery relationship with Gilbert Glenn Brown’s Shango and relinquishes the one man, Ogun, who declares his heartfelt love. As Ogun, Dorian Christian Baucum exudes an honest, inner-strength that contrasts with Shango’s impulsive personality.
Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn Brown in “In the Red and Brown Water”
On a superficial level, the plot reads formulaic: Tragedy hits girl. Girl turns to wrong man. Girl finds herself alone. However, McCraney’s vision is anything but banal. The onstage interactions between Oya and the characters with Yoruba deity names evoke the transcendental belief that spirits interact with humans in the everyday world. Through Oya’s relationships, the audience begins to explore not just socio-economic realities, but the human desire to survive. Simultaneously visceral and intellectual, this “circular” ode to human spirit emerges then concludes in similar yet distinct ways.
Peeling away In the Red and Brown Water’s stratum is akin to unraveling textual and historical layers of a Sorrow Song. Within this context, McCraney’s drama illustrates civil rights activist W.E.B Du Bois’ analysis of slave songs as “the music of unhappy people, of the children of disappointment [which] tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wonderings and hidden ways.” Through the allusion to Yoruba deities, McCraney echoes aspects of African American culture that used to remain hidden. His knowledge of Yoruba Diaspora adds to the dialogue of African American art.
Peggy Blow as Mama Moja
While prominent art historians, such as Robert Ferris Thompson, have examined the spiritual and practical aspects of West African culture brought to the Americas through the slave trade, In the Red and Brown Water pushes beyond enumerating bodies of work which focus on elevating African American folk art from obscurity to cultural center. McCraney indirectly asks: Why stop there? He bridges the aesthetic, spiritual and socio-political gap that encompasses not just race, gender, class and sexual identity, but – most importantly – the psychological self, the whole self affected by poverty onset by institutionalized human bondage.
During the ensemble’s performance, parallels between In the Red and Brown Water and choreographer Alvin Ailey’s Revelations arise. Known for drawing on the emotional and spiritual experience of African Americans rooted within a rich musical tradition, Ailey, who McCraney cites as one of his influences, connected the past to the present. Traces of Ailey’s influence emerge as drumbeats pulsate through the heart of the play, interweaving through spiritual scores and contemporary beats. The connection between past and present compounds in an agonizing scene. In the midst of electronic house music, Oya breaks down. Tapping into her primal emotions, she ruptures into African dance, which emphasizes the beauty of African American culture ingrained within the realities of personal struggle.
Shirley Jo Finney’s discerning direction coalesces the multidisciplinary facets of Peter Bayne’s talents as composer/sound designer and Ameenah Kaplan’s choreography to evoke the presence of Yoruba culture within a contemporary play. Although Frederica Nascimento’s minimalist set appears stark, she places attention on every detail: From what resembles a divination bowl sitting under the porch to the assorted water vessels on stage. Even the plastic water bottle turned percussion instrument summons the spirit of San Pere. In the Red and Brown Water conjures ancestral spirit as literal, figurative and mystical dreams appear.
Natalie Mislang Mann has a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University and writes for Playwriting in the City.
In the Red and Brown Water Must End Feb 24th (323) 663-1525 More
Oya can run faster than anyone—but not fast enough to escape her destiny. Shirley Jo Finney directs the long-awaited Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water. Lyrically weaving together elements of urban contemporary realism with West African mysticism, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s lusciously theatrical and boldly original new play opens at The Fountain Theatre on October 20.
How far will fast, beautiful Oya go to make a mark in the world? The first of McCraney’s acclaimed “The Brother/Sister Plays,” In the Red and Brown Water is an intoxicating story that charts a young girl’s thrust into womanhood, her family struggle, the two men vying for her heart, and her subsequent fall into the murky waters of life. McCraney mixes the mundane with the mythic, drawing on Yoruban influences while setting the play in a modern urban context—a housing project in the fictional Bayou city of San Pere, Louisiana.
“This production was three years in the making,” says Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “When ‘The Brother/Sister Plays’ exploded onto the theatrical scene in 2009, it was clear that Tarell was an important and rising new voice. We immediately began our fight for the rights to do this play and refused to give up. The Fountain Theatre is a theater of the heart—and this is where we want the play to live in Los Angeles.”
“I began to investigate how to use ancient myths, stories, to tell urban ones,” McCraney wrote. “I began taking old stories from the canon of the Yoruba and splicing them, placing them down in a mythological housing project in the south. This made the stories feel both old and new, as if they stood on an ancient history but were exploring the here and now.”
Tarrell Alvin McCraney
Lauded by The New York Times as “something rare in the theater, a new, authentically original voice,” and by the Chicago Tribune as “without question, the hottest young playwright in America,” 32-year-old Tarell Alvin McCraney has won numerous awards, including the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Whiting Writing Award, London’s Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright and the National Endowment for the Arts Outstanding New American Play Selection. His plays include Wig Out! (developed at Sundance Theatre Lab, produced in New York by the Vineyard Theatre and in London by the Royal Court) and the trilogy entitled The Brother/Sister Plays, including: The Brothers Size (simultaneously premiered in New York at the Public Theater, in association with the Foundry Theatre, and in London at the Young Vic, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award); In the Red and Brown Water; and Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet. His other plays include Without/Sin and Run, Mourner, Run (adapted from Randall Kenan’s short story), both of which premiered at Yale Cabaret. He holds a B.F.A. in acting from DePaul University, and he graduated from the playwriting program at the Yale School of Drama. He is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s international writer in residence and is currently under commission at Manhattan Theatre Club and Berkeley Rep. His new play, Head of Passes, will have its world premiere in April at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, directed by Tina Landau.
In the Red and Brown Water stars Dorian Christian Baucum, Peggy A. Blow, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Justin Chu Cary, Diarra Kilpatrick, Stephen Marshall, Simone Missick, Iona Morris, Theodore Perkins and Maya Lynne Robinson. Set design is by Frederica Nascimento; lighting design is byJosé Lopez; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; choreography is by Ameenah Kaplan; vocal coach is Brenda Lee Eager; dialect coach is JB Blanc; assistant director is Erinn Anova; production stage manager is Shawna Voragen; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce.
Shirley Jo Finney with NAACP Theater Award
Shirley Jo Finney previously directed award-winning productions of From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman and The Ballad of Emmett Till at the Fountain Theatre. Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and, most recently, the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Ms. Finney has been honored with Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage Garland, LA Weekly and NAACP awards. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha,and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me. In 2007 she received the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.
Don’t miss this extraordinary new play at the Fountain. From the director of our unforgettable smash hit The Ballad of Emmett Till.
In the Red and Brown Water Oct 20 – Dec 16 (323) 663-1525 More
Our upcoming production of the west coast premiere of El Nogalar (The Pecan Orchard) by Tanya Saracho is set in modern day Mexico. Directed by Laurie Woolery, the play will be performed on an open, stylized, multi-use set where the various locations of the story — both interior and exterior — can all magically take place. It is the job of our talented and award-winning set designer Frederica Nascimento (Opus) to make it happen on the Fountain stage.
A sneak peak at the design model for the El Nogalar set:
Cool, eh? Wait til you see the finished set! Beautiful and magical …
Set designer Frederica Nascimento works in theatre, opera, dance and film. Recipient of numerous awards, received her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts/ NYU with the J. S. Seidman Graduating Award for Excellence in Design. Graduated from Superior School of Theatre and Cinema, IFICT Theatre Institute, and Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University of Lisbon. A scholar with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Luso-American Foundation and a member of the Portuguese Architects Association. Directors worked with include José Álvaro Morais, Manoel de Oliveira, Wim Wenders, Pina Bausch, Robert Wilson, Jane Campion, Rogério de Carvalho, João Canijo, Nuno M. Cardoso, Ruben Polendo, Annie Kaufman, Will Pomerantz, Julia Frodahl, Heather Woodbury, Phyllis Nagy, Chris Fields, Simon Levy, Ron Sossi, Ken Barnett, Larry Biederman, among others. Collaborates with Johannes Wieland Dance Company in NY and is a Usual Suspect for the New York Theatre Workshop.