Slave Play review at Golden Theatre, New York – ‘searing satire’
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.
Want to continue reading? Support The Stage with a subscription
We believe in fair pay for everyone who works in the arts, and that includes all our journalists and the whole team who create The Stage each week.
As a family-run, independently-owned publication, we rely on our readers' subscriptions to pay journalists to produce the informed and in-depth articles you want to read.
The Stage will always strive to report on great work across the country, champion new talent and publish impartial investigative journalism. Our independence allows us to deliver unbiased reporting that supports the performing arts industry, but we can only do this with your help.