It is an unfortunate truth that some topics will always be relevant, no matter how many decades (or centuries) pass. Questions of race and identity are near the top of this list, and as we’ve seen over the last few years, many are still grappling with the questions.
Irish author Dion Boucicault wrote “The Octaroon,” a play about American slavery in 1859. And in 2014, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon” premiered his version of the story, which uses much of the same characters, plot and dialogue to get to a very different point.
“A lot is the same, but a lot has changed, and we want to highlight how much of these issues are still around,” said donnie l. betts, guest director at the Benchmark Theatre. “What Jacobs-Jenkins’ did is show these issues as they really are.”
“An Octoroon” runs at the Benchmark Theatre, 1560 Teller St. in Lakewood, through Saturday, July 9. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
According to provided information, the story centers on Terrebonne, a ruined plantation whose owner, Judge Peyton, has died. Peyton’s nephew George arrives to take over the business and falls in love with Zoe, an octoroon (a person who is one-eighth black) - all of which isn’t to the liking of overseer M’Closky.
“When I read this script, I was floored by the possibilities and also a little daunted by the play,” wrote Neil Truglio, Benchmark’s artistic director, in an email interview. “That’s who we want to be - a place for challenging, diverse storytelling.”
Most of the cast - which features Mykai Eastman, Josh Levy, Latifah Johnson, Kenya Fashaw, Colleen Lee, Samantha Piel, TeeJ Morgan, Jacob d’Armand and Marie-Antoinette Banks - play multiple characters, which meant all involved had to bring more than stamina to the table.
“I was looking for actors who could bring uniqueness to each role, ”betts said. “The cast is phenomenal and really bought into the material.”
Many plays aim to send audience members home thinking about what they’ve seen and how it connects to their lives. betts hopes “An Octoroon” does that and more, while not providing any easy solutions for audiences.
“The issues raised in this play are constantly raised in America - questions like how we treat each other, questions of identity when it comes to people of color,” he said. “I want the audience to ask a lot questions but know we can’t give all the answers.”
Tickets and information can be found at www.benchmarktheatre.com/an-octoroon.
`Nice Work’ comes to Lakewood Cultural Center
There’s a reason George and Ira Gershwin are some of the first names in musical theater. To see why, check out Performance Now Theatre Company’s presentation of “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” running through Sunday, June 26 at the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway in Lakewood. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Directed by Bernie Cardell, featuring music direction by Heather Holt Hall and choreography by Christopher Page-Sanders, the show is set in 1920s and follows playboy Jimmy Winter (Andy Sievers) as he meets female bootlegger Billie Bendix (Dallas Slankard) on the weekend of his wedding. All kinds of hijinks ensue, as only the Gershwin’s can conjure.
Get your tickets at www.performancenow.org.
Arts festival with a fringe on top
Arts festival are common during the summer months, but the Denver Fringe Festival brings a little something different to proceedings. The third annual event is back on Thursday, June 23 through Sunday, June 26 at 10 different venues throughout the RiNo/Five Points area.
According to provided information, the festival features more than 40 original shows in all genres of performing arts, including a nationally-touring, multi-award-winning one-woman cabaret dream play about the life of Josephine Baker starring Tymisha Harris and circus shows from local circus troupes.
With venues that include theaters and photo studios, you’re sure to find something to delight you. Tickets and information can be found at www.denverfringe.org.
Clarke’s Concert of the Week — Summer Jam at the Fiddler’s Green
There’s something about rap music that just sounds better on a summer day, particularly coming from a car with all the windows rolled down. The best way to replicate that feeling in concert form is the annual Summer Jam tour, which is back at Fiddler’s Green, 6350 Greenwood Plaza Blvd. in Englewood, at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 18.
This year’s lineup includes Russ, YG, Vince Staples, Cordae, JNR CHOI, Buddy, Kendra Jae and Trev Rich x TheyCallHimAP. I’ve already written about Staples numerous times, so you should know by now not to miss him, but Buddy is also a talent worth catching and YG is one of L.A.’s most reliably fun rappers.
For tickets to summer in concert form, visit www.axs.com.
Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.