'Slave Play' Review: Who Says Broadway Isn't Ready For Jeremy O. Harris?



by Greg Evans

Harris? A black woman, dressed in Antebellum slave garb, and a white man, attired in the sort of short-hand plantation overseer costume we know from Roots and any number of similar period dramas, are in the midst of an encounter queasy with sexual overtones.

'I do not know what I'm supposed to say,' she says, dropping, for a few seconds, the 'massa' talk, causing a quick look of confused panic from her scene mate and likely some in the audience whose reflection in the mirrored stage panels has already made us complicit in everything we observe.

As the two unspool their own sexualized encounter - complete with racist language I wo not repeat here - the sheer, over-the-top silliness of the dialogue prompts uncontrollable giggles from the two, as if they are old friends, or likely more, who recognize their own absurdity.

Soon enough, they - and a third couple (black man, white woman) who just prior had enacted an even more sexually explicit, racist and laugh-out-loud hilarious encounter - are stopped dead in their coitus by that now-back-onstage overseer shout of the word 'Starbucks.

' And then Harris and his simpatico director Robert O'Hara - near miraculously blending their talents to pull off an incendiary work that could go wrong in any single minute of its intermission-less two hours at the Golden Theatre, where it opens tonight - add yet another meaning to the title. The central question that these couples seem to bring, stated or unstated, to the therapy session - a long scene that generates explosive drama, applause-getting comedy and ample opportunity for each member of this extraordinary cast to take the spotlight - might be: What, exactly, is wrong with these wounded people? I will only note that the therapy session, for all the too-obvious jokes at the expense of the brainy therapists' woo-woo jargon (far too easy, sometimes - the therapist characters are the only ones who seem to occasionally elude Harris' grasp) finds a sort of success in spite of itself, if success means finding a way to demand the stating of a truth that takes no prisoners, least of all those people in the mirrors that Clint Ramos' set puts to such chilling, shifting use.

One of slave Play accomplishments is its use of a commercial Broadway production as an insistently focused examination of whatever is meant when we make reference to the black experience, and in giving voice and the last word to those who live it. Producers are Greg Nobile and Jana Shea of Seaview Productions, Troy Carter, Level Forward, and Nine Stories, founded by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker.

Published on October 7, 2019
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