Review of Slave Play at New York Theatre Workshop

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    December 14, 2018
    Review by:
    Elizabeth Foster

    PLEASE NOTE: This is an Off-Broadway review of Slave Play during its run at New York Theatre Workshop.

    Fasten your seat belts tightly for Jeremy O. Harris. The 29-year-old professional’s debut Slave Play is a must see. Obie Award winner Robert O'Hara directs. Slave Play is the recipient of the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, The Lotos Foundation Prize in the Arts and Sciences and the 2018 Paula Vogel Award.

    Harris also has “‘Daddy’” which will debut Off-Broadway in February, a co-production of The New Group and Vineyard Theatre, starring Alan Cumming with an onstage swimming pool. Dual debut productions in the same season and a third-year student at Yale School of Drama, he is keeping busy.

    The universal theme of what initially attracts a couple and what it takes to create a mutually satisfying relationship is explored through the lens of four couples. At times comedic with heart-wrenching raw emotion interspersed, these couples, who really care for each other, struggle to make sense of it all. They are courageous in their attempts to salvage and better their understanding of themselves and each other.

    Slave Play is a double entendre about slaves and, at the same time, a highly sexually charged innuendo conveying a message that would be offensive to state directly.

    The play is split into three acts. Act 1; “Work” you initially witness three couples all at work in different vignettes on the MacGregor Plantation a few miles south of Richmond Virginia. Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan) the overseer is aroused at the sight of the slave Kaneisha (Teyonah Parris) bending over twerking.

    Jim exclaims “Kaneisha! The hell you doin?”

    “I’s sorry massa Jim. Somethin jus came ova me,” Kaneisha replies.

    “It’s somethin’ alright,” Jim answers.

    Gary (Ato Blankson-Wood) the head slave and Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer) an indentured servant, after stacking hay have a romp in it.

    In the antebellum plantation boudoir of Madame MacGregor, Alana (Annie McNamara) yells to the mulatto Phillip (Sullivan Jones) “I got an itch only you can scratch!”

    Act 2: “Process” has the characters processing (which is for computers) or as Patricia (Irene Sofia Lucio) says, ruminating, on what they did on the plantation in a modern therapy session. For anyone who has undergone therapy this act is priceless. The therapist couple Patricia and Teá (Chalia La Tour) leading the session ruminate their own relationship.

    We learn Jim was initially attracted to Kaneisha in a bar. His English accent won her over. Now she views him as a virus. Gary originally was attracted to the biscuit colored belly of Dustin showing from his shirt on a subway. Now Dustin won’t even answer a simple question Gary poses. Alana and Phillip met on a website for fetish fiends and now they find race has entered their role plays, negatively. There is a great deal to unpack here. 

    Act 3: “Exorcise” tries to grapple with the effects of our collective past as it manifests today. The entire act is solely between Jim and Kaneisha. They represent each of the couples in the questions raised and what is left unsaid.

    You're lucky if you can still get tickets for this extended debut at New York Theatre Workshop.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)


    What the popular press says...

    "Willfully provocative, gaudily transgressive and altogether staggering new play."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, which opened Sunday at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, is a giant trigger warning in three acts. This is an ambitious, at times uneven satire about race and sex and power and politics that seems designed to provoke."
    Thom Geier for The Wrap

    "The new play by Jeremy O. Harris is being billed as an "antebellum fever dream," and that description can be considered truth in advertising. This wildly imaginative work asserts itself with a daringness rarely seen on our stages these days."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - The Wrap - Hollywood Reporter