Golden Theatre, New York City, (212) 947-8844
More than a fleeting succès de scandale, Jeremy O. Harris’ debut drama rates as “one of the best and most provocative new works to show up on Broadway in years,” said Jesse Green in The New York Times. Ten months after it created a stir in a brief run in a smaller venue, Slave Play opens with the same incitements: interlocked scenes of three interracial couples engaging in sex acts that involve whips, bondage gear, and costumes suggesting an antebellum plantation. “But sex is more than titillation in Slave Play; it is the crucible in which Harris performs a thought experiment.” His script soon will reveal that—spoiler alert—we are in fact watching present-day couples engaged in a form of role-playing therapy. The real question: Is there any place in America where a white person can see a black American as that person wishes to be seen?
“Harris’ format is undeniably clever,” said Johnny Oleksinski in the New York Post. But shortly after the big reveal, this two-hour show “fast dissolves into an academic essay.” As the couples dissect their experiences in therapy sessions, the jabs aimed at white liberals barely sting. Slave Play becomes, at best, “the sort of show you see to say you’ve seen it.” Still, it leaves no viewer unscathed, said Tamara Best in TheDailyBeast.com. The black characters have emotional work they must do, too, and when Kaneisha (Joaquina Kalukango) erupts at her conversation-dominating white partner, Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan), then calms down and thanks him for finally listening, “I couldn’t help but think that the ‘thank you’ was not just for Jim but all of us too—a polite and exhausted coda to a singular Broadway experience.”