“Slave Play” is a dark comedy play written by Jeremy O. Harris that premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in December 2018. It is the recipient of the Rosa Parks Playwriting award and was nominated for a best play Tony.
“Slave Play” eventually made its way to Broadway, opening at the John Golden Theatre and running from October 2019 to January 2020 for a short but impactful run. The New York Theatre Workshop says the themes center around race, interracial relationships, generational trauma, sex and power relations. The blunt, forceful, in your face production quite literally took the theater world, history and Broadway by storm.
The play features three interracial couples attending role play therapy for couples on a former plantation. The set was decorated with full length mirrors on the back wall, facing the audience. Behind the audience there is a projection of a plantation home. When the audience is looking at the stage, they not only see themselves, but the plantation home is mirrored behind them.
According to Harris, this choice was made to give the illusion that the audience was not watching the production but in the show with the characters. According to the Daily News, the play features disturbing reenactments of master and slave relations, sex toys and full-frontal nudity in order to rip history open and shed light on the truths of being in an interracial relationship and dealing with generational trauma.
When “Slave Play” first premiered on Broadway many were not prepared for the show’s blunt impact. According to the New York Times, “Slave Play” is one of the most controversial yet important plays to come out in the past 10 years.
The show caught the eye of many celebrities. According to the New York Times, the play moved Rihanna so much she texted Harris in the middle of the production.
The play brings to life the uncomfortable truths of being Black, and more specifically, being Black in an interracial relationship in America.
Although the production was controversial and even made me a little uncomfortable while reading it, it is one of the most important productions to have premiered on Broadway, even compared to Hamilton which premiered four years prior.
The provocative, truthful, dark humor sheds light on issues that white people tend to ignore. Harris wrote Slave Play to get white Broadway’s attention and he very much succeeded.
Harris wanted a show that Black people could understand and relate to while talking about issues. He had no intention of sparing the feelings of those who watched it, specifically white people. This play does not allow blissful ignorance to exist.
Unlike Hamilton, which was a cast of people of color playing what would traditionally be old white men, this production is focused on interracial relationships and the issues that Black America faces today such as internalized racism and generational trauma.
The production and its harsh themes are a huge part of theater, Black history and the critical issue of fighting racism in America. The production is provocative, harsh and made many uncomfortable.
Sometimes, the best thing to do to shed light and start uncomfortable discussions is to throw it in the face of people who refuse to listen. Harris did just that and made history.