Slave Play has been nominated for 12 Tony Awards. (Slave Play/ Facebook)
The groundbreaking queer Broadway show Slave Play has achieved a Tony Awards first, racking up the most nominations for any non-musical play in its 73-year history.
With 12 nominations, Slave Play has overtaken Angels in America, which previously held the record for the most Tony Awards nominations for a non-musical.
The three-act play was written by Jeremy O Harris, and follows three interracial couples, including a same-sex couple, on a disturbing retreat undergoing “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy”, as the Black characters are not getting sexual satisfaction from their white partners.
The set of the play featured a giant mirrored wall and the house lights are kept dimly on so the audience is forced to put themselves into the narrative, and confront their own reactions.
The New York Times critic Jesse Green described it as “one of the best and most provocative new works to show up on Broadway in years”.
Slave Play is in some ways a “thought experiment”, Green said, asking the questions: “If Black people in intimate partnerships with white people felt safe to say how they needed to be seen, would their white partners be able and willing to comply?
“Or are Black people forever condemned by the legacy of slavery to live ‘squarely in the blind spot’ of their non-Black partners’ ‘myopia?'”
— Slave Play (@SlavePlayBway) October 15, 2020
Reacting to the Tony Awards nominations, Harris told The New York Times: “I’m freaking out! I was on FaceTime watching the nominations with my mom and my nieces and nephew, and it was insane.
“I had to turn it off halfway through because they were finding out before me and screaming about things.”
If Slave Play takes home the Tony for Best Play, Harris will become the first Black playwright since August Wilson won for Fences in 1987.
“It’s crazy that I wasn’t born yet the last time a Black playwright took home the Tony for Best Play,” said Harris.
“There are a lot of issues with the white maleness of the Tonys, but the 12 nominations feels like a statement from the community saying that right now, we do want to focus on Black lives.”
The play is not currently being staged on Broadway because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Harris said that if it were, people might see it differently in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and global protests.
He said: “Some people are learning that discomfort is necessary,” he said. “There is a moment in the play that people thought was really offensive and hyperbolic, when Kaneisha calls her husband a virus.
“Moments like that, language like that, would make more sense for people now. Someone said on CNN at the beginning of the protest movement that white supremacy is a virus, and I think those sorts of things helped frame the play a little differently than before.
“I don’t want to say better, because there was certainly a psychological denial that was happening because people hadn’t witnessed an Amy Cooper.
“A lot of people were like, ‘I voted for Hillary,’ and ‘I loved Obama,’ and ‘I’m not racist, how dare this young Black playwright say I might be racist, I have a Black wife!’
“And now I think people are saying ‘Oh, wait, a second, I get what he might have been saying now.'”
The Tony Awards will take place virtually this year, although the date has not yet been announced.