“Though Americans have been looking at race onstage since they first had stages to look at, much of what they saw was made and performed by white people, usually in blackface. One of the most popular such entertainments was a five-act melodrama by Dion Boucicault called “The Octoroon,” which opened on Broadway — yes, Broadway — in 1859. In it, a white man named George, the heir to a Louisiana plantation, falls in love with his late uncle’s illegitimate mixed-race daughter, named Zoe. Naturally it ends in tragedy: A ship loaded with cotton explodes. And, you know, slavery.
The same ship explodes in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s reappropriation of the Boucicault play, but it’s not the only thing going up in flames. The whole project of race drama from minstrelsy to “A Raisin in the Sun” is left smoldering in the wake of this shocking comedy….”