For Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06, the last few months have been a whirlwind. The Brooklyn-based playwright has brought two new plays to the stage in New York City — Appropriate, which ran from late February to mid April at the Signature Theatre, and An Octoroon, an exploration of Dion Boucicoult’s 1859 play The Octoroon, which began its ongoing run at the Soho Rep. in late April. Last week, in recognition of both works, Jacobs-Jenkins received the Obie Award for the best new American play; the two productions dominated the off-Broadway honors in the acting and directing categories as well.
“It’s been a very charmed year, without a doubt,” Jacobs-Jenkins told PAW.
Jacobs-Jenkins majored in anthropology at Princeton, acted in campus productions, and delved deeply into creative writing courses. In his junior year, he took a playwriting class, taught by Robert Sandberg ’70, which he said “opened up something for me creatively that I didn’t even know was there.” As a senior, he wrote and staged the play Heart!!!, a creative-thesis production about an African-American boy with a heart problem.
Issues of race figured prominently in Heart!!!, and they also take center stage in Appropriate and An Octoroon. (They are “addendums to my thesis, in some funny way,” he said.) The first features a white family trying to come to grips with its violent, racist ancestors; the second explores slavery in the South. The Village Voice, which featured Jacobs-Jenkins on the cover of its May 21 issue, hailed the playwright’s “ravenous appetite for the hard questions.”
An Octoroon is scheduled to wrap up next month, but Jacobs-Jenkins has plenty of work ahead, including the debut of another new play, War, at Yale Repertory Theatre in the fall. (Classmate and Princeton lecturer Lileana Blain-Cruz ’06 will direct the production.) Next spring, Jacobs-Jenkins is slated to teach a course at Princeton.