The Octoroon was written by Dion Boucicault and was adapted from the novel The Quadroon by Thomas Mayne Reid. The play was first produced in 1859, at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City, and was both controversial because of it’s sympathetic and human portrayal of slaves before the civil war, and extremely popular from the moment it premiered. Set on the fictional Terrebonne Plantation in Louisiana, The Octoroon depicts life in the American South with honesty and empathy. The conflict centers around Zoe, “the Octoroon”, a term used at the time to describe a person who was 1/8 African, 7/8 Caucasian. An extremely beautiful young slave girl, who is treated like a member of the family, Zoe is kind, generous, and adored by every man who lays eyes on her. One man, Jacob M’Closky, is driven into such a frenzy by Zoe that he is willing to lie, cheat and kill in order to own her. Because of a nefarious plot by Mr. M’Closky to buy the plantation out from under its inheritor, Mrs. Peyton, the estate is put up for auction along with all of the slaves, including Zoe. Here we see the first theatrical depiction of a slave auction on stage. Melodramatic and tragic, the events of The Octoroon unfold in a politically charged race to see if the plantation and Zoe can be saved from the clutches of Jacob M’Closky.
Note: Dion Boucicault’s original play was adapted by Branden Jacob-Jenkins in 2014 into a new play entitled An Octoroon which premiered at Soho Rep. This guide details the original Boucicault script and associated productions.
The Octoroon guide sections