Oroonoko by Paul Van Dyck
Oroonoko is based on a seventeenth century novel of the same name by Aphra Behn - the first humanitarian English language novel, the first to express sympathy for African slaves and written by the first successful, professional female English author.
This new adaptation juxtaposes the trans-Atlantic slave trade with the plight of women and explores issues of love, hate, feminism, racism and cultural identity. The play unfolds episodically following two story lines: the harrowing journey of a young African Prince sold into slavery and the extraordinary life of a woman whose views, manners, and professions are clearly ahead of her time.
The play begins in England in 1677 with the dramatization of the novel’s original author, the charismatic playwright Aphra Behn, telling a young admirer of her experiences in a South American colony. Through Aphra’s narration, the story of Prince Oroonoko is revealed, beginning on the Gold Coast of Africa, where he falls in love with the beautiful Imoinda. However, Oroonoko’s grandfather, the king, has also fallen in love with Imoinda, and out of mad jealously, sells the two lovers into slavery.
The pair are reunited in a British colony in Suriname, where they befriend Aphra Behn, who is secretly there on behalf on King Charles II to spy on Lord Byam, the brutal and roguish Deputy Governor of the colony.
After a failed slave revolt, Oroonoko and Imoinda fee into the jungle, pursued by Byam’s militia. With no hope for survival, Imoinda pleads that Oroonoko take her life, so that she, and their unborn child, may die honorably at the hands of her lover. In anguish, Oroonoko slits her throat and then allows Byam’s militia to kill him.
Distraught by her failure to help Oroonoko, Aphra Behn finds solace in her ability to tell his story. Thus creating not only one of the first English novels ever written, but the first abolitionist novel in the English language.
Year Printed: 2013
First Produced: 2013 at Arts Interculturels, Montreal, QC
Keywords: Slavery, Abolitionist, African, Women, History
Running Time: 120 minutes
Male Cast: 8
Female Cast: 5
Double Cast: 7
Suitable for School Performances: Students age 14+
Maximum Number of Roles: 16
Minimum Number of Roles: 12