Directing Obi in 2000

This essay both summarizes and explains two re-stagings with papers of the play Obi; or Three-Fingered Jack (first staged in London in 1800) as these were presented in the year 2000 in two different parts of the United States. One one level, this piece compares the two productions in detail, the one presented in Boston to a community audience and the one presented for academics at the 2000 Conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR). In this process, it tries to account for the rationales of two different directors behind their choices of scenes, perfomance styles, actors, singers, and stagings. It also confronts the difficulties of staging a once-racist musical play—one that changed over time from 1800 into the 1820s—for widely different audiences in America at the most recent turn of the century. It is hoped that this theatrical extension of the larger project of recovering Obi reveals the complex tensions still attached to racism and memories of slavery while it also reconstructs the conditions of theater and imperialism in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century.