February 16th brought the opening of playwright, Jeremy O. Harris’, unflinching new work, “Slave Play”, at the Mark Taper Forum in Downtown Los Angeles.
After almost two years of no performances due to COVID-19, the original creative team of last season’s most talked-about show, brought the hit Broadway show to Los Angeles for its first production outside of New York.
The play was set on a thrust stage, giving the audience an intimate yet titillating experience of the provocative show that explores three interracial couples trying to rectify their relationships through group therapy and foreplay.
The play is part of Center Theatre Group’s 2020-2021 season. Two-time NAACP and Obie Award winner and the recipient of Center Theatre Group’s inaugural Sherwood Award, Robert O’Hara returned to the group to direct the performance.
Harris wrote this play almost six years ago, during his time at David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University. In his opening speech, the playwright described how a failed acting career led him to write productions in secret. After developing a fascination and love for performances, Harris “read every performance I could get my hands on and spent hours at the Los Angeles Library studying plays.”
“Slave Play” was the first play he wrote during his time at Yale.
“It’s affirming to no longer have to write in secret,” Harris confessed to the audience.
In the production’s revamping for its Los Angeles production, Harris and his team created a raw experience, where an audience of 736 individuals were able to see the cast, each other, and themselves through floor-to-wall mirrors upstage.
While the play mentions topics of sex, racism, and the struggles of interracial dating, the mix of people in the audience are forced to watch themselves and the vulnerable reactions that the play brings about.
Through the Mark Taper forum’s semicircle seating, the team was able to amplify their audience as part of the production. Even a person glancing on their phone or walking out the theatre was noticed by everyone in the room.
“Celebrate the people who watch with glee and be revolted by who those who watch with too much.”
Taking place at the MacGregor Plantation, Harris depicts a setting where nothing is as it seems, yet everything is as it seems. The play is an antebellum fantasy, where through the exploration of the three couple’s relationships, Harris gives a bright light on intersections of race, love, sex, and sexuality in 21st century America.
The playwright also shines on the experiences anyone might fill in any interracial dynamic. With the help of his vibrant cast (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Jonathan Higginbotham, Devin Kawaoka, Chalia La Tour, Irene Sofia Lucio*, Paul Alexander Nolan, Jakeem Dante Powell and Elizabeth Stahlmann), Harris gives multiple parts to the feelings many may have on race during today’s times.
There is nothing in this play that one’s heart doesn’t already know. The centuries of generational pain broadcasted within the play can be a useful tool when it is off the chest of the community. Through the satirical undertones of the play, Harris even brings light to our generational trauma, giving the black community moments where they can laugh and bond.
“Slave Play” received 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. The play was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Playwriting Award and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play.
“Slave Play” will be in Los Angeles until March 13, 2022. Ticket and subscriptions on sale dates are available now. For more information please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org. The Mark Taper Forum is located at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.