Find out why people are walking out on this show that’s too controversial for its venue!
By Andrew Andrews
Slave Play opens with three no-holds-barred farcical scenes about interracial sexual role play centered around themes of slavery. It’s more in line with the kind of experimental work I’d expect to find downtown than on Broadway, and it challenges the audience to let go of their expectations and hold on for the ride. But after the farce is abruptly terminated, shit gets real, and we “ruminate” over what just happened with the three couples undergoing day four of an experimental treatment, dubbed Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy. The goal is to help the black partners overcome symptoms of impotence and withdrawal from their lighter-skinned significant others, but the road to recovery is always a bumpy ride.
The teasers for Slave Play sketch a picture for this production that deceptively doesn’t prepare theater-goers for what they’re about to experience. For aficionados of the avant garde like me, this results in a perfect surprise, but I noticed two couples and one lone attendee walk out of the performance early in the show, presumably to ask for their money back!
I would have been happy enough if the sex play had continued throughout the entire show, as the uneasiness of the situation was invigorating, and the apparent discomfort of those on stage led to hilarious lines and plenty of schadenfreude for those who could stomach the scenes. However, that alone would not be enough to get this story to Broadway, and although there’s plenty of comedy after the farce has ended, it’s gradually replaced by quite serious, emotionally-charged drama. The crossover isn’t as drastic as in Decky Does a Bronco, but it’s equally as effective.
Positing controversial ideas about unspoken, underlying causes of tension in relationships that cross racial boundaries, Slave Play reminds us that Broadway doesn’t have to stick to safe, familiar situations to draw a crowd, and I, for one, hope this is a sign that the big houses will continue to push their boundaries as they strive to appeal to younger and more ethnically-diverse audiences.
Andrew Andrews attended Slave Play at Shubert Organization Golden Theatre in Manhattan on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 @ 8:00pm to write this review.