Review: ‘Slave Play’ at the Golden Theater

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Sitting in a theater for two hours and five minutes without an intermission isn’t particularly comfortable for many moviegoers who might need a restroom break or a chance to stretch their legs. But then again, there’s nothing in the Jeremy O. Harris controversy slave play which aims to put the public at ease. On the contrary; the shock in three acts is designed to provoke, not to alleviate, and in this it succeeds.

Ato Blankson-Wood, James Cusati-Moyer, Sullivan Jones, Annie McNamara, Joaquina Kalukango, Paul Alexander Nolan (below), Irene Sofia Lucio and Chalia La Tour (above). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Directed with boundless vehemence by Robert O’Hara, the opposite narrative is framed in a startling pre-war conceit that examines our country’s appalling history on issues of race, gender and sexuality and its impact tirelessly on the socio-political climate and interpersonal relationships of America today. It all unfolds in a biting parody of interracial couples therapy, laden with intellectual psychobabble and a sharp jab at Yale (the playwright’s own Ivy League alma mater) to explore issues of victimhood, cellular memory, dreams of fever, collective guilt, and the inability to fully understand or sympathize with the experience of the other.

The characters are initially ridiculously presented as exaggerated racial, ethnic and sexual stereotypes, histrionic, one-dimensional, as offensive as they are funny. But the initially wacky style of their role-playing (including overly long segments of simulated fetish sex that seem better suited to a BDS&M club than a Broadway stage) becomes increasingly aggressive and combative as layers of long-standing defense mechanisms are stripped away to reveal the suppressed torment, self-loathing, racism and misogyny that lurk within. The end result is a catharsis on the scale of a Greek tragedy, culminating in episodes of raw explosive rage and insurmountable division (and an outrageous conclusion that, from a feminist perspective, could decimate the #MeToo movements and #TimesUp and giving support to all – the all-too-familiar defenses of “it was consensual”, “she wanted it”, “she asked for it”, “she even thanked me for it”).

Joaquina Kalukango and Paul Alexander Nolan. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

A committed cast of eight fully embraces acerbic humor, with intentional bad acting, old-school Southern accents, antiquated vernacular and abusive epithets in the opening scenes of ‘Sex Performance Therapy’. pre-war” improvised between clichéd partners Gary (Ato Blankson-Wood) and Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer), Phillip (Sullivan Jones) and Alana (Annie McNamara), and Kaneisha (Joaquina Kalukango) and Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan) , and the start of the “treatment” group session led by researchers Teá (Chalia La Tour) and Patricia (Irene Sofia Lucio) with laughable and generally misguided tenacity. All then slowly but surely deliver their characters’ innermost concerns, emotions and psychology, as the tone of the play begins to shift from overtly satirical to deadly serious, pent-up hostilities rise to the surface and sink. freely between couples and within the group, and sex becomes inextricably linked to dominance and control, power and submission, not love.

James Cusati-Moyer as Dustin and Ato Blankson-Wood. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The show’s masterful art design supports the theme with costumes by Dede Ayite, hair and wigs by Cookie Jordan, and original music and sound by Lindsay Jones Then and Now. Lighting by Jiyoun Chang accentuates dramatic transitions in the mood, and an ingenious set by Clint Ramos augments the playwright’s message with a backdrop of mirrored panels that reflect encompassing projected images of the MacGregor Plantation in The Old South. , the characters on stage and the entire audience, thus making us complicit in the action and the attitudes.

There’s something (well, actually, there’s lots and lots of things) to offend everyone in slave play, so if you’re looking for a fun night out at the theater, you won’t find it here. What you will encounter is an inevitable confrontation with the heritage of our culture that will leave you quivering, debating and reflecting, but not necessarily healing. So where are we? A nation still divided by race, gender and sexuality, according to Harris’ devastating, sardonic, controversial and pessimistic view.

Duration: Approximately two hours, without intermission.

slave play until Sunday, January 19, 2020 at the Golden Theater – 252 West 45and Street, New York. For tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or purchase in line.

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