Twink Revolution

Marxism with Twink Characteristics

Why are People Horny for Slave Play?


5 min read
Just mull over the phrase “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy” for a moment

Slave Play is a three-act play by Jeremy O. Harris that debuted off-Broadway in November of 2018 and earned itself a Broadway run in October of 2019. This play did not hold back. The play follows three present-day interracial couples engaging in what they call “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy.” Throughout the first act, the actors simulate an array of explicit sex acts at what is perceived to be a Virginian plantation. In one scene, one of the main characters receives cunnilingus from her slave-master-playing boyfriend as she is called a “nasty, lazy negress.” It doesn’t stop there. The audience is also forced to bear witness to a woman penetrating her “slave” with a dildo. 

It is processed in the second act when the couples come together in a group therapy setting to ruminate over what they gathered emotionally from the role-playing sessions. The characters largely talk in the abstract, discuss what is felt during the session, and how they feel about one another. Nothing in the script informs the material power dynamics between any of the couples, and the audience must watch as the couples mull over their inability to have a healthy sex life and how race intersects with it. The play closes out in the third act with one of the main couples, Jim and Kaneisha, talking out their ideological differences and having sex again. It comes to the conclusion that Jim may never fully understand the ancestral implications of their interracial relationship.

It goes without saying that the New York Times gave this play their seal of approval that drove much of the box office sales, but my question is, is this something we should perceive as generative? What kind of catharsis does this inspire other than superficial class narcissism? While there is no doubt that this playwright has his spirit in the right place, one must ask…who is this really written for? And who asked for this unwarranted psychological torture? 

The play undoubtedly ruffled some feathers, many calling it “dangerous” and “daring.” But, had this play been as transgressive as it claimed to be, would it have received as many awards and accolades? The Wall Street Journal’s Drama critic, Terry Teachout, put it best in his review of the play, stating:

When a new play by an unknown playwright is universally described as “controversial” yet meets with near-universal critical acclaim…well, it’s not controversial. In fact, there’s a better-than-even chance that it’s telling its audiences exactly what they want to hear.

In researching the many controversies regarding Slave Play, it seems the drama that surrounded the reviews of the play was far more politically revelatory than the actual play itself. There were many objections that the play be allowed to continue to run. One theatre patron created a petition to get the play shut down on Change.org that has received almost 7,000 signatures. In her letter to the theatre, she writes, 

This past Saturday I attended Slave Play for the 8pm showing. I wanted to verbalize that this was one of the most disrespectful displays of anti-Black sentiment disguised as art that I have ever seen. As a Black woman I was terribly offended and traumatized by the graphic imagery mixed with laughter from a predominantly white audience.

An arts and culture journalist, Jean Michael Porter II, wrote his review in the online magazine COLORLINES, where he detailed the following:

I’ve seen “Slave Play” at its off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop and then on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre. I expected far more from a play so polarizing, but I spent most of the two-hour, intermission-less Broadway version listening to the same variation of “White people are terrible” with nothing else going on.

It quickly became apparent that there was a great deal of justified negative attention during its run. Many theatergoers questioned if this play had any artistic integrity at all, citing its overstuffed aestheticization of interracial violence. The celebratory acclaim of the play was largely awarded by a small group of media agents that dominate theatre connoisseurship in the New York scene. Adam Feldman, a prominent theatre critic from Time Out New York, was subject to a brief Twitter storm following his positive review.

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The tone that many of these elite theatre critics have is so condescending to the many voices that have expressed sincere disgust at some of the acts and ideas depicted in the play. Yet, this production continued to be lauded as a gift to the American theatrical tradition, as it is the recipient of a record-breaking 12 Tony nominations this year.

The best plays that have ever been written engage with the human spirit when the stakes are high. For example, Fences by August Wilson is not only about a working-class black man struggling to provide for his family, but it contains scenes that are revelatory and provocative without the need for obscenity at all. When the main character reveals to his wife that he has impregnated his mistress, it is earth-shattering and heartbreaking because of the action that precedes it. Moreover, it is detailed through the action of the play that so much materially is at stake for the family in the story, which makes the betrayal in Fences so tragic. 

It’s absolutely debatable as to whether the depiction of sex is truly earned in the script, but there’s no question that Slave Play relied on its titillation to seduce patrons to the theatre rather than offering a substantiative story with material stakes that drive the action. The themes that are evoked in this play are rooted in the psychic grappling of a small establishment class who are completely failing to realize that this play only exists for the benefit of their delusional ideas, that we have to “therapy” our way to repairing race relations. 


Tags: review, sex, slavery, theatre

Maddie C. Maddie C. (See all)
Maddie is a Chicago working girl with a B.A. in Theatre. Instagram

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