TRIBECA WEEK! Documentary Review: Let’s Process Slave Play. Not A Movie. A Play.

By   |   June 24, 2024   |   Entertainment

Our Theatre Diva, Caroline Cao, covers projects from the esteemed festival.

Slave Play. Not A Movie. A Play. doesn’t give away its entire game. Directing the documentary about his very play, playwright Jeremy Harris permits only a tantalizing whiff is a cheeky burrowed secret.

The documentary follows the construction of Slave Play, a hot topic button that electrified the theatre world with controversy. For neophytes who require a recap, the play premiered in 2018 off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop before making its way to Broadway in 2019. And yes, the documentary first throws you into the infamous clip of the white woman raging against Harris at the audience talkback.

I can’t talk about the documentary without alluding to my personal experience. The first time I saw Slave Play, I had a blank slate of experiences. The second time I saw it, I knew how it would turn out, so I gathered its idiosyncrasies. Slave Play was a blistering thought experiment into the sexual dynamics between interracial couples and their uneasy relationship with the histories within their bodies and within their consciousness (even if yet to be excavated).

The rehearsal footage allows these prolonged look at the NYTW actor’s processing Harris scripts. Harris’ instinctively employs double screens that hold spaces for both faces of twofer scenes. One scene stuck out: It’s when a white actress discusses with a consultant her discomfort with the white character, and the consultant tells her that if she discovers discomfort she can use it to the character’s advantage. This plays out as the screen also lingers on the expression of the Black actor sharing the scene with her. Beyond this rehearsal footage, Harris toys with the meta nature of documentary editing by shooting himself and his editor in the process.

But there’s also a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle—those who have seen the play know that Harris chooses not to spoil the third act, which mercilessly attracts interpretation, maybe ire, maybe gasps, maybe understanding, maybe catharsis. Watching this documentary, Harris makes his enthralling argument for why he refused a movie adaptation of Slave Play. I don’t speak it here. Let Harris’s documentary speak for itself.

The documentary Slave Play is now streaming on Max.

photo credit: Courtesy of Max.

 

Filed Under: Entertainment
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