Slave Play

It’s difficult to talk about Slave Play without giving away its conceit — in fact, it’s damn near impossible. If watching the show unsullied is something you prefer, then know this much: at the beginning, it’s about three sexual encounters steeped in a racial power play in the antebellum south. At the end, it’s…well, it’s still about that, in a way, and you may find yourself needing a stiff drink afterwards.

Written by Jeremy O. Harris and directed by Robert O’Hara, the show hits Broadway on October 6, 2019. It’s charged — sexually, politically, racially — and it gets to the heart of some deeply uncomfortable facets of trauma in different forms. It is not, however, a neatly packaged instructional on how to navigate these issues; in fact, it feels antithetical to “the discourse” we’ve grown used to. It lacks a linear solution, or set of solutions, to what may elsewhere be presented as an immediately solvable problem (or even an immediately identifiable one). To talk about how or why is to talk about its true nature, which, if you’re spoiler-cautious, the show reveals a mere thirty minutes in after frequently tipping its hand. It isn’t a reveal for the characters, but rather a mechanism by which to situate and re-locate the audience’s discomfort.

And it is discomforting. It needs to be, because it does what so few modern stories about American slavery ever manage to: it treats slavery as a thing of the present. Warning: spoilers ahead. Read More »