Downtown Hit 'Slave Play' Sets Broadway Engagement

Courtesy of Joan Marcus
Paul Alexander Nolan and Teyonah Parris in 'Slave Play'

Rising-star playwright Jeremy O. Harris' audacious dissection of race, sex and interpersonal power dynamics became a sensation in its New York Theatre Workshop premiere.

One of the most talked-about and polarizing new works of the 2018-19 off-Broadway season, Jeremy O. Harris' Slave Play, is making the move to Broadway, producers announced Thursday.

Seaview Productions, Troy Carter, Level Forward and Nine Stories, the production company founded by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker, will bring the play to Broadway's Golden Theatre in a strictly limited 17-week engagement, beginning previews Sept. 10 ahead of an Oct. 6 opening.

Directed by Robert O'Hara, Slave Play premiered last December at New York Theatre Workshop in a sold-out extended run, drawing wide attention with its provocative take on the corrosive legacy of slavery and its impact on both mixed-race relationships and personal identity in contemporary America.

The play begins as an antebellum fever dream that ostensibly takes place on a plantation in the Old South, where black and white partners, straight and gay, come together in clandestine couplings between the cotton fields and the master's house. But tears in the narrative fabric of that world hint early on that Harris intends to pull the rug out from under his audience in developments that both subvert and reaffirm the shifting balances of power being played out.

"During my very short time being a professional writer, the world I thought I'd inhabit was one at odds with a commercial theater landscape," said Harris in a statement. "So to see that this play, Slave Play, that interrogates the traumas Americans have inherited from the legacy of chattel slavery and colonization has a place in the canon of work that has made its way to Broadway is both exhilarating and humbling. It also articulates that the leaps the community made in the past Broadway season might not have been a fad but the beginning of a new moment for the theater to once again attempt to represent discursive American theatrical expression not situated solely within the imaginaries of cis white men, but the imaginaries of all Americans."

Added director O'Hara: "I'm thrilled as a black queer artist to be collaborating with another black queer artist on what will be both of our Broadway debuts. I think the idea that I can say that openly and proudly is rather profound given the history of our country and of the American theater, but more specifically Broadway, which has had and continues to have a general lack of diversity and diverse stories."

Accessibility is being made a priority on the transfer, with producers confirming that 10,000 tickets will be made available at just $39 each throughout the run.

Harris, who graduated from Yale School of Drama in May with an MFA in Playwriting, becomes only the sixth black writer to have a new play on Broadway in the last decade. 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.

While the play's ensemble at NYTW included Ato Blankson-Wood, James Cusati-Moyer, Sullivan Jones, Chalia La Tour, Irene Sofia Lucio, Annie McNamara, Paul Alexander Nolan and Teyonah Parris, casting for the Broadway transfer is to be announced in the coming weeks.

The creative team includes scenic design by Clint Ramos, costumes by Dede Ayite, lighting by Jiyoun Chang, music and sound design by Lindsay Jones, and intimacy and fight direction by Claire Warden. Mark Shacket serves as executive producer.

The production marks the second critical sensation of the past year to springboard from NYTW to Broadway, following Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me, which is currently playing at the Hayes Theatre. The presence of that work among this year's Tony Award nominees for best play, along with Choir Boy by black queer writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus by gender-nonconforming theater artist Taylor Mac, gave the past Broadway season a welcome shot of diversity.

Harris is represented by ICM and managed by ELIA and attorney Andre Des Rochers of Granderson Des Rochers.