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Slave Play review at Golden Theatre, New York – ‘searing satire’

Annie McNamara and Sullivan Jones in Slave Play at Golden Theatre, New York. Photo: Matthew Murphy Annie McNamara and Sullivan Jones in Slave Play at Golden Theatre, New York. Photo: Matthew Murphy

In his Broadway debut, Slave Play, Jeremy O Harris sharply explores how white supremacy interferes with interracial relationships today.

Harris plunges the audience into a disorienting swirl of anachronisms and graphic sex. In the opening scenes we see a black “slave” Kaneisha (a powerful performance by Joaquina Kalukango) twerking to Rihanna before submitting to her overseer; a “plantation owner’s wife” (a frenzied Annie McNamara) wearing latex boots as she commands her “mulatto servant” Phillip (a brilliantly nonchalant Sullivan Jones) into bed; a black “overseer” Gary (a wrenching Ato Blankson-Wood) getting steamy with an “indentured servant” – both in Calvin Klein underwear.

This turns out to be extreme role-play therapy for three interracial couples. In the post-play therapeutic discussion that follows, director Robert O’Hara pushes the laughter to a discomfiting extreme in a way that sometimes tramples the play’s ideas.

Amid this din, the play shows with stinging clarity how blackness and black pain are ignored, minimised, or erased by white people.

O’Hara’s production is impeccably designed and precisely performed. Harris successfully sows discomfort and ambiguity into the satire, but the hyper-freneticism – and an act of violence – obscure otherwise cogent points.

Clint Ramos’ set consists of a looming two-storey mirror designed to capture the audience reactions. The lighting pulls the audience in when we may want to look away. This is a confrontational play that demands we face unsettling truths and our role in them.

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Verdict
Jeremy O Harris’ searing satire exposes the perniciousness of white supremacy
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