Slave Play is so much more than just a play on words. This isn’t your average play by any means, it is an exceptional piece of work that must be experienced.
If you’re a person of color in America, then interracial relations is something we deal with everyday and can’t escape. The same way we could not escape slavery without consequences was the same way audience members were not allowed to escape the uncomfortable and unapologetic conversations that this piece of work required. A two hour piece of pure genius with absolutely no intermission.
“Slave Play” opens to three overlapping scenes where a female slaves begs her master to refer to her as a nasty Negress” as he forces himself upon. Gary (who demands to be referred to as “Nigga Gary”), makes a white indentured servant named Dustin bring him to orgasm by licking his boots then bursts into tears. The lady of the manor uses her dildo to penetrate Phillip, her violin-playing house slave —Just to be clear Mistress Alana doesn’t care for the Beethoven tunes that Phillip plays, she prefers one of the negro spirituals that charms the ladies down at his cabin.
I gagged! This is where the world gets flipped upside down even more.
Starbucks! That’s the safe word that brings this soft porn to a halt. The scene turns out to be sexually therapeutic fantasies delivered in role play. Get it? Slave play. The plantation is transformed into a conference center where the couples are there as part of a psychotherapeutic program run by the facilitators/couple Teá and Patricia. Their program focuses primarily on the Black participants, who are no longer able to receive sexual pleasure or otherwise from their white partners. All are involved in contemporary interracial relationships.
The Black participants gain insight on what their social conditioning had previously obscured.
None of that insight is welcome news for their partners. Their white counterparts have trouble grasping what we in the audience can see clearly—their “whiteness” is the main contributing factor to the problems in their relationships. Gary, Phillip and Kaneisha exist only in the blind spot of their nonblack partner.
I begin to ask myself, can white people see and love us just as Black people without needing to love our Black music or Black sex? Can they love us on our terms without the need to interrupt our experience due to white privilege or white guilt? Can they just shut up and listen? Can you sit through a two hour play despite your discomfort with the content? Are we able to have the difficult conversations and deal with them without trying to soft blow our experiences for the benefit of our white counterparts? Slave Play creator Jeremy O. Harris and director Robert O’Hara give us no choice but to face these questions.
I got a chance to speak with Mr. O’Hara where I cheered on his unapologetic vision for this play. He is not afraid to take ownership of a dialogue that has gone unspoken in this country for years. The play has been called controversial by some, but in my opinion it is an invitation to a healing conversation that is just going to take some real work. Mr. O’Hara made it clear that he is in an interracial relationship and as a Black gay man he owns all of his experience and his responsibility in sharing those experiences with his community. It is a history as a Black gay man that he can not escape just as the Black characters could not, but their white partners would have rather bury their heads in the sand. Slave Play sheds layers on our past while shining a bright light on our present. My question is where do we go from here? This brilliant and engaging piece of work leaves me wanting more real dialogue and artists who are willing to speak the truth with as much vision and conviction as Jeremy O. Harris and Robert O’Hara.
By Jeremy O. Harris; directed by Robert O’Hara; sets by Clint Ramos; costumes by Dede Ayite; lighting by Jiyoun Chang; sound and music by Lindsay Jones; props by Noah Mease; hair and wigs by Cookie Jordan; movement by Byron Easley; intimacy and fight director, Claire Warden; dramaturge, Amauta Marston-Firmino; dialect coach, Dawn-Elin Fraser; stage manager, Jhanaë K-C Bonnick. Presented by New York Theater Workshop.
Cast: Ato Blankson-Wood (Gary), James Cusati-Moyer (Dustin), Sullivan Jones (Phillip), Chalia La Tour (Teá), Irene Sofia Lucio (Patricia), Annie McNamara (Alana), Paul Alexander Nolan (Jim) and Teyonah Parris (Kaneisha).