By Elizabeth Ann Foster
Fasten your seat belts tightly for Jeremy O. Harris. The 29-year-old professional’s debut Slave Play is a must see. Obie Award winner Robert O’Hara directs. Slave Playis the recipient of the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, The Lotos Foundation Prize in the Arts and Sciences and the 2018 Paula Vogel Award.
Harris also has“‘Daddy’” which will debut Off Broadway in February, a coproduction of the New Group and Vineyard Theater, starring Alan Cumming with an onstage swimming pool. Dual debut productions in the same season and a third-year student at Yale School of Drama he is keeping busy.
The universal theme of what initially attracts a couple and what it takes to create a mutually satisfying relationship is explored through the lens of four couples. At times comedic with heart wrenching raw emotion interspersed, as these couples who really care for each other, struggle to make sense of it all.
They are courageous in their attempts to salvage and better their understanding of themselves and each other.
A Slave Play, a double entendre is about slaves and at the same time a highly sexually charged innuendo conveying a message that would be offensive to state directly.
The play is split into three acts. Act 1; “Work” you initially witness three couples all at work in different vignettes on the MacGregor Plantation a few miles south of Richmond Virginia. Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan) the overseer is aroused at the sight of the slave Kaneisha (Teyonah Parris) bending over twerking.
Jim exclaims “Kaneisha! The hell you doin?”
“I’s sorry massa Jim. Somethin jus came ova me,” Kaneisha replies.
“It’s somethin’ alright,” Jim answers.
Gary (Ato Blankson-Wood) the head slave and Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer) an indentured servant, after stacking hay, have a romp in it.
Act 2: “Process” has the characters processing (which is for computers) or as Patricia (Irene Sofia Lucio) says, ruminating, on what they did on the plantation in a modern therapy session. For anyone who has undergone therapy this act is priceless. The therapist couple Patricia and Teá (Chalia La Tour) leading the session ruminate their own relationship.
We learn Jim was initially attracted to Kaneisha in a bar. His English accent won her over. Now she views him as a virus. Gary originally was attracted to the biscuit colored belly of Dustin showing from his shirt on a subway. Now Dustin won’t even answer a simple question Gary poses. Alana and Phillip met on a website for fetish fiends and now they find race has entered their role plays, negatively. There is a great deal to unpack here.
Act 3: “Exorcise” tries to grapple with the effects of our collective past as it manifests today. The entire act is solely between Jim and Kaneisha. They represent each of the couples in the questions raised and what is left unsaid.
You’re lucky if you can still get tickets for this extended debut.
Slave Play– Written by Jeremy O. Harris and directed by Robert O’Hara.
WITH: Ato Blankson-Wood (Gary), James Cusati-Moyer (Dustin), Sullivan Jones (Phillip), Chalia La Tour (Teá), Irene Sofia Lucio (Patricia), Annie McNamara (Alana), Paul Alexander Nolan (Jim) & Teyonah Parris (Kaneisha).
Scenic design by Clint Ramos; costume design by Dede Ayite; lighting design by Jiyoun Chang; sound design by Lindsay Jones; properties by Noah Mease;movement by Byron Easley; dramaturgAmauta Marston-Firmino; dialect coachGigi Buffington; stage manager Jhanaë K-C Bonnick; assistant stage manager Bryan Bauer.
New York Theatre Workshop; 79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003, 212-460-5475, info@NYTW.org,run extended through Sunday, January 13, 2019.
This play contains nudity, sexual content, sexual violence, and racially violent language. Recommended for ages 17+.
Single tickets for Slave Play start at $35 and vary by performance date and time. A $25 day-of CHEAPTIX RUSH will be available for young people, seniors, artists and Lower East Side residents.Rush tickets are subject to availability and are sold cash-only, limit two per person. Proper identification is required for all rush tickets. Youth (ages 25 and under) and seniors (ages 65+) may present an ID indicating date-of-birth; Artists may present an ID and a program or union card; Lower East Side residents may present an ID that includes your address.