by Eric J. Weiner
Slave Play is a comedy of sorts. It should be played as such. —Jeremy Harris
Jeremy Harris is a dark and stormy cocktail of Dave Chappelle, Augusto Boal, Boots Riley, and James Baldwin. The dark comedic energy that drives Slave Play, Harris’s provocative Broadway show about racism, sex, kinky fetishism, white supremacy, interracial relationships, slavery, the Antebellum South, post-colonialism, and psycho-sexual drama therapy, is the sort that makes you cry while laughing, tremble with anxiety, giggle from embarrassment, and question the sources of your own laughter. Slave Play riffs darkly on how black and white people in America live intimately together yet are essentially apart. Carrying the historical burdens of slavery and white supremacy into the 21st century, Harris shines a dark therapeutic light onto areas of our racial relations that are vibrating with pain and festering with pleasure.
Sitting restlessly within the tradition of black comedy while echoing Augusto Boal’s lesser known work Rainbow of Desire, Harris’s play pushes against some boundaries while obliterating others. He has created not a safe space but what one of the actors, Irene Sofia Lucio, calls a “brave” space:
I think that we’re all into safe spaces right now. But we might need more brave spaces, where people speak their truth and we start to lean in and listen to things that make us uncomfortable instead of walking away from each other. In a brave space, when you feel discomfort, you’re supposed to sit with it and acknowledge that that’s part of the process towards growth.
Slave Play’s provocative brew of dark humor, like the best Chappelle Show sketch, cuts deep into the social marrow of race and identity in America. During the presentation of the 2019 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to Chappelle, Sarah Silverman commented that Chappelle’s “critical thinking is his art.” In a similar way, Slave Play is Harris’ critical thinking as dramatic black comedy.
The comedic angle makes sense as the idea for the play apparently started as a joke, kind of. Harris was at a party. He remembers it like this:
So I was at a party with my friends, and this very liberal man was talking about the pleasure he was getting from a woman who demanded the roughest sex he’d ever engaged in. Everyone was just talking about it casually, and I was like: This is so weird. I was like, “I want to play this thought experiment with you. You identify as a male feminist, right?” And he was like, “Yes.” And I was like, “Great. Now if she was Black, would you feel as comfortable telling all of us about this in this way?” And the entire energy in the room changed immediately and he was like, “Uh…” And I was like, “What if she asked you to call her the N-word? Would you still tell us about that?” And he was like, “Uh…uh…” And everyone was like, “Well, that’s different.” And I said, “How? Is consent different when that consent intersects with the politics you perform in life? Because the consent to do this rough sex is also in opposition to the politics you perform in life, and yet that’s allowed for a sort of casual, drunken, discursive dissection.” That’s what started the thing. https://www.npr.org/2019/09/20/762785319/with-slave-play-a-young-playwright-provokes-his-way-to-broadway
Although not typically talked about as a comedy from fans and critics alike, Slave Play has garnered praise and vitriol from across the ideological, gendered, and racial spectrum. White people accuse him of writing a play that is racist toward Caucasians. Black people accuse him of writing a play that degrades African-Americans. Moralists accuse him of writing a play that is sexually perverse, prurient, and pornographic. Mental healthcare professionals accuse Harris of writing a play that demeans the medical community, specifically psychologists and psycho-therapists. Academics accuse him of misrepresenting and caricaturing the work of post-colonial theorists specifically and social theory generally. Some people accuse him of writing a play that diminishes the brutal legacies of slavery by examining them within the context of kinky sex and pseudo-science. Some people in the African-American community accuse him of giving white people an excuse to snicker at the sexual degradation of black people at the hands of whites within a cultural setting—Broadway theater—that is almost exclusively attended by white people. Women of all races and political leanings accuse Harris of reproducing representations of women that are misogynistic and racist.
Harris is also recognized by just as many people across racial, sexual, and gendered spaces as a brilliant provocateur, a 21st century James Baldwin-like playwright who captures, through humor, passion, insight, and rage, the deep contradictions that run through our racial identities, fluid sexualities, and intersecting histories. These folks recognize in Slave Play an opportunity for psychic healing and catharsis, a redistribution of racial and sexual power, and the development of new knowledge about how race, gender, and sexuality intersect within our intimate relationships. The characters of Slave Play—three interracial couples who are trying to understand why the person of color in the pair developed anhedonia—are tragically and heroically comedic, bumbling toward critical consciousness and sexual catharsis with the help of their Ivy League educated, interracial and lesbian mental health therapists and researchers, Teá and Patricia.
The play opens with the three couples engaged in different psycho-sexual role play scenarios all of which take cues from various Antebellum Southern tropes. Under the panoptic oversight of Teá and Patricia are Keneisha, described in the script as “28, a dark, black woman unafraid of what she knows she wants” and her partner Jim, “a white man and inheritor of more than he knows how to handle.” There is Phillip who is “30, a mulatto who still has to learn his color” and his partner, Alana, who is “36, a white woman who wants more than the world sees fit to give her.” Lastly, we meet Dustin who is “28, a white man but the lowest type of white—dingy, an off-white” and his partner, Gary who is “27, a dark, black man whose life has been lived with the full trauma of his color.”
The role play we witness is decidedly kinky, darkly perverse and comical. For those personally unfamiliar with such things, costumes, accents, and “scripted” mannerisms and dialogue are typically part of sexual role play. This sometimes results in unscripted moments of laughter and awkwardness. Staying in character can be a challenge and this is true as well for the characters in Slave Play. The awkwardness and confusion that the couples’ feel while engaging in these psycho-sexual scenarios is painfully apparent. And their awkwardness can be quite funny, sort of.
In Kaneisha and Jim’s role play scenario, Jim plays a slave master, while Kaneisha plays his slave. Kaneisha demands Jim call her “negress” as she degrades and demeans herself doing various household activities, i.e., twerking while sweeping the floor while dressed in garb appropriate for a slave woman of the Antebellum South. Harris chose the word “negress” as he thought it was even more inflammatory and degrading than the word “nigger.” At one point in the scene, Jim and Keneisha struggle to clarify whether the fruit that “Massa” Jim smashed on the floor is a watermelon or cantaloupe. It is obviously a cantaloupe, but “Massa” calls it a watermelon. Keneisha is ordered to eat the “watermelon” off the floor. She gently corrects “Massa,” explaining to him the difference between a watermelon and a cantaloupe. The couple tries to stay true to their characters’ mindset within the context of the role-playing, which just makes the scene even funnier.
What the audience is witnessing, without the added benefit of being told beforehand that this is a therapeutic role-playing exercise, is a white man holding a whip and dressed in period appropriate garb in the role of slave master and a black women dressed as his slave being forced to eat smashed pieces of cantaloupe off the floor. “Massa” Jim says in a southern drawl, “Well gone head then. Get down there and eat if the floor’s so clean. Then maybe I’ll spare ya from a beating this time.” He hesitantly cracks the whip he is holding. This scenario culminates in “Massa” Jim sexually thrusting into “negress” Kaneisha from behind as she demands he call her “Negress!” Being the thoughtful, white liberal man he is in his real life he can’t continue, losing his erection just before she is about to climax. He is turned off by the role play, eventually screaming “Starbucks!”, their agreed upon safe word. The action and dialogue appear in the script like this (I provide extensive direct quotes of dialogue and stage direction throughout this essay to try and give the reader a more accurate picture of what is happening on-stage and in the mind of Harris):
… Negress! You feel so so
As he says this his thrusts become more and more contained.
Yes, fuck yes!
That’s exactly what I— what I—
Massa Jim I
are you gonna whip me if I come Massa Jim? Are you gonna whip me?
For being a nasty negress?
For being your disgusting little bed wench? Huh?
She is nearing her climax.
Jim has almost completely stopped thrusting at this point.
KANEISHA: Are you gonna beat me like the dirty
Why you gone all / soft all of
JIM (In a full British accent): Kaneisha… Kaneisha I’m sorry.
This doesn’t work for me.
In Phillip and Alana’s role play, Alana plays a dominatrix complete with large, black dildo, while her “mulatto” slave, Phillip, lays prostrate on the master’s bed, pants off. After some bantering about classical music and her absent husband (Phillip’s “owner”), She inserts the dildo up his ass while holding his genitals. The scene plays out as follows:
ALANA: Take off your pants.
ALANA: Take em off. That’s it. Like that.
Phillip lies on the bed pantless. Alana takes a moment to admire him.
PHILLIP: Now what Mistress?
ALANA: Now turn over.
Alana sits on the bed as Phillip turns over and begins to slowly kiss and lick his bottom.
ALANA: Being the man is so much fun. Phillip moans.
ALANA: Do you like being the woman Phillip?
PHILLIP: I’m not sure, Mistress.
ALANA: Do you like this?
Slowly, Alana begins to push the dildo into Phillip. Phillip moans with pleasure and pain.
ALANA: You like this?
PHILLIP: I’m not sure, Mistress.
Dustin and Gary’s role play inverts the master/slave narrative by having the black man, Gary, force the white man, Dustin, to sensually lick his dirty, tall black leather boots. Both men are on stage dressed only in their small matching briefs and boots. Their role-playing, unlike the others, culminates in Gary having an orgasm as Dustin smells his crotch and passionately licks the shaft of his boots. This is their role-playing scene as it appears in the script:
Dustin closes his eyes and moves his tongue out of his mouth. Flicking it this way and that.
Gary lifts up his well-booted foot and places it on Dustin’s mouth and Dustin begins to clean his boot with his tongue.
Gary shivers and shakes writhing ever so slightly as Dustin gets more and more into it, his hands by his side, his face and tongue doing all the work as Gary stands in what can best described as “The Captain Morgan.”
DUSTIN (Licking): Uhhh… uhhh…
You taste of leather.
Of the earth…
I always imagined the taste of dirt
on one of you
but never the taste of grass
of all the elements of God’s green.
Gary is shivering intensely now.
It is about to happen. He is fully erect in his little undies at this moment.
Gary falls down and begins to weep.
Dustin opens his eyes.
DUSTIN: Oh fuck!
In the performance I saw, which was attended by an overwhelmingly white audience, a collective squirm of discomfort rippled through the audience as Alana pushed the black dildo into Phillip, Jim thrust into Kaneisha from behind while calling her “Negress!” and Gary screamed first in orgasmic pleasure followed immediately by violent tears. I was told in a question/answer session after the show that there were performances in which people walked out of the theater pre-orgasmic scream or exited as soon as the black dildo was introduced into Phillip and Alana’s scene. No one left the performance I saw but there was a tangible sense of agitation and discomposure churning through the air. Whatever it was we were observing, it was raw, beyond the pale of political correctness, and way outside of mainstream theatrical representations of sexual intimacy. There was a sense of danger and a whiff of fear running through the audience. I could sense people’s hearts beating hard in their chests, cheeks flushed, our collective breathing shallow and quick. The fourth wall wasn’t broken in the typical sense, but it did seem that the distance between the actors and the audience had shrunk, like Jim’s white liberal erection, to an uncomfortable degree. No one laughed. This was not a safe space, but maybe it was a brave one.
Slave Play takes the performative aspect of our fetishes to another level by asking, somewhat tongue in cheek, are there therapeutic uses for our kinks? Can we use our (not so) deeply buried sexual fantasies about race, gender, and sexuality via dramatic theater to better understand how our shared history, divergent memories, and fluid identities inform our relationship to each other and our place in the world? Can we find catharsis by exploring our kinks or are they just another form of adult play that has little to say beyond the issue of consensual pleasure? If a person suffers from anhedonia, can a deep dive into the darkest of kinks help restore her/his capacity for pleasure? Are there kinks, beyond the issues of consent and hygiene, that should be off-limits because of political/cultural considerations? What if we sexually desire only those practices that diminish our humanity? What if the only way we can reclaim our humanity is by participating in our own dehumanization?
Tackling these questions in the play with earnest passion and commitment are psycho-sexual therapists, partners, and researchers, Teá and Patricia. The therapy they have devised while studying “first at Smith and then at Yale,” and what the audience comes to learn they have been witnessing, is called Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy. Teá defines it as “A radical therapy designed to help black partners reengage intimately with white partners from whom they no longer receive sexual pleasure.” She continues, “There’s a real materiality to our psychic spaces. [It] is all about manipulating those psychic spaces like the raw material they are in order to process the anhedonia, right?”
In one of the funnier moments of the play, Teá and Patricia provide a more detailed explanation of what their therapy is and how it came about. I have to admit that I laughed while watching the play, but guffawed when I read the script. As an academic who often finds academia quite a silly place to work, Harris offers audiences a pointed take-down of self-important academics, jargon-riddled peer-reviewed research, and the overblown sense they can sometimes have of the value of their “research.”
Here is the full explanation of Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy:
TEÁ: A lot of the work we are doing and have been doing is about shining a light on these dynamics in order to radically center the black body in discourses around white supremacy. A major aspect of both this therapy and our research are the ways in which racialized trauma has not only transfigured the modes by which minoritarian individuals conceive of self but also the mode by which the minoritarian conceives self in relation to the other.
PATRICIA: Watching the dynamics that just unfolded in this group—uh—“rumination” coincided with so much of the work we have been doing in our thesis.
TEÁ: Completely. It’s incredibly exciting. And while today, in many ways, the breakthroughs or the “goals” we were hoping to reach this week through our Day Four fantasy play were derailed…I must say the unpacking that’s taken place here will have a SIGNIFICANT impact on our research. This is unparalleled.
PATRICIA: The goal of a lot of this work has been in proving for not only us but for you all that your inability to feel things sexually, your anhedonia, is directly related to the fact that black and brown people after generations of subjugation, raping, pillaging, now only nurture and birth children who are neurologically atypical and undiagnosed. We know this because we watched it manifest in our own relationship and have been studying it in the relationships of countless others as our research has matured and grown as most of you read in the most recent swelling of press around this work.
TEÁ: Yes. As you read there: The black or brown subject born under the constant psychological warfare of the white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist system has been stricken with disorders that have gone unrecognized because there is no racial or social lens on the psyche in our current deeply conservative practice of psychology and psychoanalysis. And like, that’s scary you know? To realize that like even with all the big work we have to do in the macro, systemically there’s even bigger work but in the micro of the mind that isn’t being done at all.
PHILLIP: I’m confused. So, like, are you saying that my—um—The reason I can’t get it up. The reason I don’t come is because of—just like, racism?
TEÁ: Well, in a sense, yes. But more so, that the reason you, Gary, and Kaneisha were chosen for this therapy was because you each showed the most pronounced symptoms of what we’re calling in our forthcoming book: “Racialized Inhibiting Disorder” or RID.
It’s hard to parse out what is complete bullshit and what might be grounded in legitimate social theory and therapeutic research on different kinds of psychological trauma. The tension between the two is the source of much of the dark humor that Harris pedals. Teá and Patricia’s description of the program, on one hand, sounds like gibberish wrapped in academic jargon disguised as practical knowledge. On the other hand, it suggests a unique perspective on how white supremacy, sexual intimacy, and racial identity form a circuit of knowledge and power that effects the body/mind in ways that are destructive and violent. The power of drama therapy to disentangle twisted circuits of desire has been well established by Boal in Rainbow of Desire. When grounded in Boal’s ideas about affectivity, aesthetics, and anonymous authority as he theorized and practiced them in Rainbow of Desire, the therapeutic purpose of the role playing the couples are engaged is legit:
Rainbow of Desire tries to access the affective dimension – the different subjective experiences people have of spaces and events. In the affective dimension, people can project their memories and experiences onto the aesthetic space. The aesthetic space is used to bring past or unconscious events closer to the present. Great works of theatre often dialogue directly with the unconscious. Such theatre seeks to put internal conflicts into the aesthetic space. It also seeks to show their wider context. The idea of the “cop in the head” — a slogan borrowed from French Situationism – is a metaphor for an internalised oppressor who performs the same function as an outer oppressor. People have inner parts – called “cops in the head” (and sometimes “ghosts”) – which either oblige or prevent actions against the actor’s will. According to Boal, people undergo “osmosis”, absorbing social oppressions. Osmosis is a kind of social interpenetration through which people pick up ideas, values and tastes. This internal function is effectively an inner extension of external oppressive power. Boal suggests that the cops are in our heads, but their headquarters are outside. (https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/augusto-boal-rainbow-desire/)
Complicating this reading of the drama therapy in Slave Play is how academic jargon echoes the longue durée of the medical and academic establishment’s violent relationship to African-American communities. From the well-known Tuskegee Syphilis Study to hundreds of lesser-known anthropological, psychological, linguistic and sociological studies in which the researchers always “discovered,” after “rigorous” research and peer-review, that African-American people were, in historian Robin Kelley’s apt term, “DisFunktional,” Harris’s representation of the softest of sciences and the two Ivy League educated therapists cuts to the bone of white supremacist ideology as it hides behind science and the good-intentions of over-educated liberals. In the question/answer forum I went to following the performance, a self-identified white liberal male psychotherapist was extremely upset by what he thought was a completely unfair portrayal of his profession. He thought everything else Harris depicted was on-point, but he couldn’t understand how he could get it so wrong in terms of his representation of the medical community and the good work they do in the African American community.
For academics and others educated in feminist studies, African American studies, Cultural Studies, post-modern theory, post-colonialism, and post-structuralism, there is enough there to almost make sense of some of it. Listening to Teá and Patricia onstage and reading the script took me back to the infamous Sokal Affair of 1996 in which the physicist Alan Sokal submitted a jargon ridden nonsensical article to the highly-regarded journal Social Text to make a point about what he considered the silliness of postmodernism. His essay was accepted and was published. He quickly revealed that everything the article argued was complete nonsense. His hoax was a warning to everyone who would listen that we should all beware of ideas (and the people that espouse them) that can’t be explained in plain language.
After the role-playing is over, the couples all meet with Teá and Patricia to unpack what they just experienced and to get a better understanding of how Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy works. The couples are volatile, moving rapidly in and out of frustration, anger, rage, hurt, and darkening silences. Kaneisha simmers silently in her rage and frustration while Jim is furious at what he perceives is a process that is complete nonsense. Gary rages against Dustin’s claim of not being white. His fury leads him to the critically conscious insight that Dustin doesn’t value him as anything more than “a tool by which your difference could finally be seen.” Phillip shares what Toni Morrison might call a “re-memory” from his time at college that has been reframed because of the processing the group is doing.
Phillip says, “I went to a really white school like the whitest…And like I was a freshman I remember like one time I was kicking this little white boy’s ass during a [soccer] scrimmage and when we went back after like after the scrimmage or whatever we went back and like…we were showering and that white kid was like, ‘Look at donkey dick over there, I always forget Phillip’s a nigger till I see that thing swinging because he definitely doesn’t play soccer like a nigger.'” Then turning to Alana he says, “I mean…I didn’t I wasn’t thinking about it at the time but yeah… I felt like the little nigger boy you all had invited into the house to dick you down while [your husband] watched in the chair beside us. While you told him he had a little “wee thing.” That / didn’t feel—…” Alana defensively responds, “That had NOTHING to do with race. That was just what got him off that was just…that was just his way of…”
In the midst of these raging insights about how white supremacist ideas quietly yet violently infiltrated the couples’ intimate relations, Patricia once again feels the need to clarify the ideas behind the therapy. She says
I understand as a person who identifies with, has wrestled with and who recognizes their own brownness that this type of work can feel erasing. Emphasis on feel. But I can also say that that is a logic of white supremacy. On Day One when we self-identified we attempted to foster an open dialogue around the spectrum of racial identity but once we began in earnest we clearly stated that the work we were doing to aid the black partners in these relationships benefits from a recognition of not how we see ourselves but how the world and by extension they see those of us here who are not black identified but exist somewhere on that spectrum closer to white than black.
And because much of my focus has been in cognitive psychology and epigenetics we began to tease out an understanding of what was happening between us first using the language of psychology and then turning outward towards black feminist and queer theory which is much of Teá’s focus. We began cataloging other anxiety disorders that we theorized and compounded to create in Teá and many of our subjects, including you three, the anhedonia you all are suffering from, that include: panic attacks, social anxiety, and most pronounced in each of you obsessive-compulsive disorder with acute musical-obsession disorder.
Although Teá’s and Patricia’s explanation and “theoretical” references are sometimes nonsensical, and Racialized Inhibiting Disorder (RID) is completely made up by Harris, all of the couples come to powerful and transformative insights regarding sexual intimacy, racial identity and the deep circuits of power that have come to define their interrelationships. Kaneisha’s insights are particularly focused and articulated. She realizes that Jim is a “virus” and that the problem is not in her, i.e., RID, as Teá and Patricia suggest, but is in him, is him. Kaneisha forcefully and angrily confronts Jim: “Virus. You’re a virus. You’re THE virus… They got it wrong. They got it so so so wrong. This is a real study but these girls don’t know half of what they’re talking about.”
Kaneisha understands now that she is not the problem, but rather that she is being devoured by a virus, THE virus, in the form/function of Jim and everything he represents. For Kaneisha, this moment is becoming cathartic. Jim earnestly listens, trying to hear through the din of his own entitlement what she needs, desires, and, most importantly, how to satisfy her demands even though they offend his senses and sensibilities. At the very least, Harris makes it impossible to dismiss sexual fantasies as disconnected from enfleshed historical memories, particularly when they involve racial, sexual, and gendered performance. Indeed, the psychic pain caused by white supremacy and patriarchy might intersect in confusing and unsettling ways with pleasures otherwise experienced at the corporeal level.
The play concludes with Kaneisha and Jim talking cautiously by themselves and as themselves—not as antebellum role play characters—but soon drift back into their role-playing characters of master and slave. The scene is brutal and grotesque. These are the scripted stage directions and dialogue:
[Master Jim] forcefully flips Kaneisha over, spreads her legs and plunges forward. He’s clutching her throat and pushing her face against the pillow. Kaneisha begins to fumble and fight as Jim thrusts into and out of her repeatedly. Kaneisha’s arms fail this way and that, looking for something, anything to help her when she remembers that her nails are sharp and his chest is exposed. She begins to claw angrily at his chest, blood spewing everywhere until finally he’s off! Kaneisha lets out a scream that sends the gag falling out of her mouth and her body shivering from groin to skull.
Keneisha screams, “Starbucks! Starbucks! Starbucks!”
Kaneisha falls off the bed and begins to cry. It is a full-bodied, all-hands-on-deck type of cry. Jim looks at Kaneisha, not sure what came over him, not sure why he did what he did, as the last light of the Virginia dusk begins to fade away, and a slight breeze knocks their window against the pane. Jim begins to crawl over to Kaneisha slowly when suddenly the all-hands-on-deck cry becomes a guttural laugh. Kaneisha is overcome. She rolls out of her spot next to the bed and crawls over to Jim where she reaches over and kisses him. Tears begin to stream again, but this time from Jim. It is an ocean of tears with waves, convulsions, and from its depths escapes a wail, warbling out from tumultuous guts. Kaneisha slowly moves away from him, pulling herself to her feet. And then…
Kaneisha does whatever she feels is right before she looks at him.
Kaneisha says to Jim, “Thank you, baby. Thank you for listening.”
Going back into Boal’s work, we find an almost perfect explanation of what we just witnessed:
Boalian theatre performs a catharsis of blocks on transformation. This unblocking process is taken to be a way of reclaiming agency and creativity. People, or protagonists, are first of all processes (or “verbs”) rather than fixed things (or “nouns”). Therefore, performances should show an action, rather than the way someone “is”. Boal suggests that there is always a desire, an “I want”, at the root of action. Boal also writes of ascesis, which is a way of inferring structural laws. Theatre should try to model the mechanisms or structures which produce oppression, a process termed analogical induction. Multiple perspectives should then be produced in reference to these structures. The idea of a ‘rainbow’ is an idea of splitting desire into its colours to recombine them in new, desired ways. Emotions don’t exist in a pure state, but in various proportions, usually with one emotion dominant. Internalised oppression can be complex. For example, people often take pleasure in situations which are also painful and oppressive. (https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/augusto-boal-rainbow-desire/)
In the first two acts, Slave Play explores issues in a way that for many stings, like a black, leather whip or burns like candle wax on a twisted nipple. The humor seems to be lost for many critics of the play in the seriousness of the socio-political subject matter. Whether the sting or burn is pleasurably painful, provokes laughter, or just hurts like hell might say something about how you think about knowledge, critical consciousness, satire, and self-actualization, not to mention sexual intimacy more generally. In the end, I don’t believe Slave Play can be considered through an either/or lens, but rather floats in the syntactical space of and/but.
The third act moves us far away from the dark humor of Black comedy, although Kaneisha’s screaming of “Starbucks!” might, on some level, keep us with one toe in the genre. But there is no safe space in the third act—not on stage or in the audience—and there is no safe word that Kaneisha or Jim can holler that will protect them from being completely shattered, and brutally de- and re-formed by the experience they just had. It emotionally twists the audience into psychic positions many people find painfully uncomfortable, yet I think the play is relentlessly restorative in its power to drive a nation endlessly reeling from the unresolved deep structural legacies of slavery and entrenched patriarchal systems to reflect, connect, and begin a dark process of healing.