There’s no describing the feeling of a theatre company’s final dash to the season programming finish line.  And with An Octoroon and Middletown putting bums in the seats at the Shaw Festival, July is heating up with groundbreaking art.

Branden Jacobs-JenkinsAn Octoroon is perhaps the funniest, and certainly the most subversive, theatre experience the season. Directed by Peter Hinton, the Obie Award-winning play is sardonic, radical response to present and past attitudes of race.

André Sills stars in Jacobs-Jenkins’ controversial and in-your-face reframing of Boucicault’s romantic tale about a plantation owner who falls in love with a woman of mixed race in the Old South. Taking on this challenging piece of theatre is an accomplished cast comprised of Lisa BerryRyan Cunningham, Starr DomingueDiana DonnellyPatrick McManusKiera SangsterVanessa Sears and Samantha Walkes.

Complemented by Bonnie Beecher’s lighting design, Gillian Gallow’s stark black and white set contrasts dramatically with the Edwardian finery of the Royal George Theatre – unnervingly mirroring the play’s themes. Gallow’s costumes rooted in the plantation era include touches of contemporary style. The production’s tone is completed with original music by Ryan deSouza.
Over at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, Meg Roe directs the hypnotic Middletown written by Pulitzer-nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning playwright Will Eno, as an intimate experience shared by actors and audience.

Veteran Shaw actors Gray Powell and Moya O’Connell star in Middletown, which is a series of intersecting vignettes in an ordinary suburban town where fears, hopes and dreams erupt through the seemingly banal details of everyday life.

The Shaw’s production invites the audience to be a part of the staging of Middletown by completely removing the backstage area and setting it in the round. The actors, set pieces and props transition seamlessly between the audience and playing space. Camellia Koo’s minimalist set and costume design emphasize the simple beauty of everyday objects, which appear and reappear throughout the performance, allowing design elements to have their own story arc.

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