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A New York Theatre Guide to... Slave Play!
Here's all you need to know about the controversial, hit drama Slave Play at the Golden Theatre...
Jeremy O. Harris’ provocative new drama Slave Play, directed by Robert O’Hara, has been on quite the journey to the Great White Way. It has been showered with awards, from the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award to the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award and from The Lotos Foundation Prize in the Arts and Sciences to the 2018 Paula Vogel Award. It has also enjoyed an acclaimed Off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop in fall 2018/winter 2019. But now perhaps the most controversial play of the season has made Broadway its home, beginning previews at the Golden Theatre on September 10, 2019, and officially opening on October 6 to rave reviews.
What’s it all about?
Told over the course of three acts, Slave Play follows three interracial couples, who have all been chosen to participate in a study/therapy session because they all seemingly have one thing in common: the black partner in the relationship is no longer sexually satisfied by the white partner. But what lies at the roots of the issue? Could deep, historical, ancestral memory be the cause?
The first act takes the form of three vignettes of sexual ‘fantasy play’ and master/mistress/slave experimentation, set in the past on the MacGregor Plantation near Richmond, Virginia. The second act is led by the fourth interracial couple, two lesbian scholars who conduct the therapy session whilst their own relationship tensions boil beneath the surface. The couples share their reactions to the fantasy play, how it made them feel, and deep-rooted emotions are brought to the fore in an explosive exchange of views on sexuality and race. Finally, the third act concentrates on the destructive (or is it healing?) aftermath for one of the couples, who try to exorcise the demons of their relationship.
Who’s starring in it?
Slave Play features a racially diverse 8-person ensemble cast. Three of the talented group are making their official Broadway debuts (Sullivan Jones, Chalia La Tour & Annie McNamara) alongside a few faces that New York theatre aficionados may recognize. Paul Alexander Nolan boasts a varied range of Broadway credits from Once and Jesus Christ Superstar to Escape to Margaritaville and Bright Star. Ato Blankson-Wood has forged quite the name for himself Off-Broadway and has appeared in main stem productions of Lysistrata Jones and Hair. James Cusati-Moyer was previously seen in Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway, whilst Irene Sofia Lucio was part of the Broadway company of Wit. And Joaquina Kalukango recently starred as Nettie in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple, following turns in Holler If Ya Hear Me and Godspell.
What’s special about this production?
Sometimes theatre is designed to feel uncomfortable. Sometimes its goal is to make us examine the complex and delicate parts of ourselves or to ultimately face some home truths. In this area, Slave Play truly hits it out of the ball park. Jeremy O. Harris has written a play with content and ideologies as provocative as its title and he uses humor and uneasiness in equal measure to drive his points home. The black voice is still underrepresented on Broadway, and the queer, black voice even less so. Experiencing such a piece of theatre at this level, that not only deals with queer themes, but universal notions of race and sexuality, is thrilling because that voice is now being heard loud and clear. It’s even more thrilling because it is just as important for it to be heard by wealthy, white theatregoers, as it is to bring more people of color into a Broadway theatre.
Kudos to the cast who bare all (sometimes both figuratively and literally) in this production. They are fully committed to the sexual content of the play, where arguably the stakes are at their highest, and they are bringing multi-layered portrayals of their respective characters to the table. As each layer is painfully peeled from its shell, the cracks begin to show, resulting in an unstoppable avalanche of emotion that feels like it mirrors the racial tensions that have been boiling over in this country ever since the 2016 election. And speaking of mirrors, Clint Ramos’ set design is dominated by them, creating the wondrous effect of the audience seeing themselves as participants in the therapy session, forcing us to reflect on our own attitudes towards our sexual partners and how we choose them.
Who would we recommend it to?
With an official age recommendation of 17+, Slave Play is certainly not one for the kids, thanks to its graphic depiction of sex and sexual violence, as well as its use of adult language. It would also be tempting to say it is not for those who possess conservative views, but then, I feel that critical and thought-provoking theatre needs to be for everyone despite their differences. Indeed, the most conservative among us might benefit the most in broadening their horizons with a trip to Slave Play; perhaps the most crucial social commentary derived from Broadway this season.
Take a look at our New York Theatre VIDEO Guide to Slave Play below...
Slave Play Tickets are available now for performances through January 19, 2020.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)