Monday, December 2, 2019

Blacks and Whites: Slave Play, Hansard, and Michael J. Pollard

James Cusati-Moyer and Ato Blankson-Wood in Slave Play. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

This review contains spoilers for Slave Play.
Slave Play, written by Jeremy O. Harris and directed for Broadway by Robert O’Hara (who also staged the professional premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop last season), begins with three broadly satirical vignettes about interracial couples copulating on pre-Civil War southern plantations: a white overseer with a black female slave, a black male slave with the white mistress of the house, and a black foreman with an indentured white male servant. The style is familiar, especially to anyone who lived through the downtown theatre of the sixties and seventies; only the gay content of the last sketch and the racial reversal, as well as a few outré details (like the huge black dildo the white woman useson the black buck and the fact that he serenades her with his violin after coition), seem fresh. But then two contemporary characters appear above the stage to halt the proceedings for a Brechtian effect and we wonder if we might be watching a rehearsal. They turn out to be not stage managers, however, but therapists, Teá (Chalia La Tour) and Patricia (Irene Sofia Lucio), another interracial couple who are running a program called Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy – which, they assure their clients, has had tremendous benefits for their own relationship. Each of the pairs we have just seen performing in the sketches is a couple that has enrolled in the group because the black partner has been unable to respond sexually for some time. The idea of Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy is that the source of the problem – the reason these African Americans have closed down – is that any sexual connection with a white lover invariably evokes the legacy of slavery and these farcical re-enactments are intended to break through the block. The reason the two therapists stop the exercise is that it turns out to be so startlingly effective with Gary (Ato Blankson-Wood) that he has an orgasm and then dissolves in tears, while his partner, Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer), not only is caught off guard but feels superfluous, even though he knows he’s supposed to be happy for Gary. The subsequent group discussion gives rise to turbulent emotions for all six of the participants.