There are some plays that do not require comment from a middle-aged white man. Slave Play is just such a play. And yet, this being my blog, I’m going to give it a go. After the opening night for Clyde’s was rescheduled and I was given a refund, I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the first preview of Slave Play. Slave Play is an important play that plays like a commercial comedy until the final scene. The first preview audience was more than welcoming, with a large number of them being repeat viewers and the vast majority of them appearing to be college students. Luigi Sottile went on as an understudy in the role of Jim, and was magnificent.
If I have any criticism, it’s of the actual production. The mirrored set is a bit heavy-handed. The first scenes are played a bit broadly, which is justified in the later scenes, but that style seeps into the later scenes, undercutting their power. The script demands a number of different acting styles and transitioning among the styles requires subtlety which was not always evident in the first preview. There’s also a lot of male nudity, which in the era of #metoo strikes an uncomfortable tone. My biggest quibble is with the staging of the final scene, where all of the emotional impact lies. The director doesn’t seem to trust either the text or the actor and imposes some artificial staging in an effort to break up a ten-minute monologue. The text is rich and powerful and Antoinette Crow-Legacy more than capable enough to deliver it with a minimum of gimmickry.
But these are minor quibbles compared to the impact and necessity of the script. The most essential question a theatre artist must answer is, “Why now?” I wish I could say that the time for this play has passed, but it hasn’t. And likely won’t for many generations. Black audiences need to have this story told, and white audiences need to hear it. This is a script that will have a life long past Broadway, and will likely be produced in Chicago every season, in some form or another, for at least the next ten years. And when that happens, I think every single person in Chicago theatre should see each and every one of these productions.