‘An Octoroon’: prepare for a provocative play

UCF theatre students Waneka Leary (left), portraying Dido, and Reva Stover, playing Minnie, perform during a dress rehearsal for Theatre UCF's production of "An Octoroon" on Wednesday. The play, which runs through Nov. 19, satirizes a classic melodrama and examines issues of racism and violence. "An Octoroon" dress rehearsal, Nov. 8, 2017. Photo by Alex Storer.

An octoroon is a person who is one-eighth black and is the focus of Theatre UCF’s production of “An Octoroon,” a thought-invoking take on the effects of race and social constructs.

Directed by UCF Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing David Reed, the play features an heir named George who inherits his late uncle’s plantation and falls in love with an octoroon named Zoe, according to a UCF School of Performing Arts press release.

UCF theatre student Mandi Lee performs as Zoe during a dress rehearsal for Theatre UCF’s production of “An Octoroon” on Wednesday. “An Octoroon” dress rehearsal, Nov. 8, 2017. Photo by Alex Storer.

Assistant director Sami Cunningham, 21, said the play is a wild ride.

“It takes every stereotype and kinda chews it up and spits it back out, and now it’s something that you have to deal with,” Cunningham, a UCF acting major, said.

During rehearsals, Reed had the cast do a warm-up called “story time” where the actors discussed their personal encounters with racism.

“Born from the language and the sensitive topics of the play, it is essentially a way for all of the cast to kind of understand where everybody is coming from, what happened, where they have been, what they’ve gone through,” Reed said.

Waneka Leary, 26, who plays a slave named Dido, shared her story about the first time she had to deal with racial prejudice on UCF’s campus.

“I was the only black girl there, and none of my friends in my class came,” Leary, a UCF senior theatre major, said. “I remember I was standing next to this boy and this girl and they were white, and there [were] these two gentlemen who came over and introduced themselves to us, and they asked for the guy’s name and the girl’s name, and they kinda just skipped past me. [One of the gentlemen] shakes [the girl’s] hand and he even reaches over to shake the boy’s hand, and he doesn’t even shake my hand.”

UCF theatre students Reva Stover (left), Waneka Leary and Bria Holloway perform as Dido, Minnie and Grace. “An Octoroon” dress rehearsal, Nov. 8, 2017. Photo by Alex Storer.

The UCF senior theatre major Arius West plays characters BJJ, George and M’Closky and said he had trouble dealing with racial slurs on stage.

“At first, like in the process, I would say that the racial slurs were hard to hear because it was a little bewildering, I was like ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” West, 22, said. “But then, I had to do my research and understand that this is just how they talked in these times, so they’re not trying to be offensive, they’re not saying anything that they would say that was not normal in this time.”

West said he predicts the audience will react to the show with laughs of “uncertainty” and question his portrayal of multiple characters in a single scene.

“I also think people will be unsure or confused due to them wanting answers because I know they’ll have questions,” he said.

“An Octoroon” will be presented by Theatre UCF at the Black Box theater on UCF’s main campus from Thursday, Nov. 9 through Sunday, Nov. 19.

Standard admission is $20, but students can get a ticket for $10 with a UCF ID, according to Theatre UCF’s website. Tickets can be purchased at the box office in the Performing Arts Center, which is open from Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets can also be bought online or over the phone by calling 407-823-1500.