A bit of good arts news for a change: Center Theatre Group on Thursday announced that “Slave Play” has been added to its still-cohering 2020-21 season lineup.
The uproarious and provocative play by Jeremy O. Harris took Broadway by storm last year, prompting critics to proclaim that in “Slave Play” they had seen the future of theater.
Set at a retreat on a former Virginia plantation, “Slave Play” unearths the painful and at times hilarious psychosexual blocks developed by black characters with white lovers. Their goal is to reawaken passion through role-playing, including a section of therapy that finds three couples exploring antebellum master-and-slave stereotypes.
In his profile of Harris, Times theater critic Charles McNulty found the writer to be “warm, funny, sensitive and acutely self-observing.”
“The deconstruction he’s been conducting on himself and his society isn’t tidy,” McNulty wrote in the November piece. “He knows there will be theatergoers, black and white, who will take issue with what he has exposed. Black work, he said, is often burdened with the expectation of providing answers to questions that don’t have any.”
The production coming to Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum is the first staging of “Slave Play” outside New York. It will feature the original Broadway creative team, including Obie Award-winning director Robert O’Hara.
“As we look forward to the moment that we can safely return to the stage it helps to be reminded of the type of transcendent experiences that continue to draw us back to the theater,” Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie said in the announcement.
A date has not yet been set for “Slave Play,” and, indeed, the future of live theater in Los Angeles — as dictated by the curve of the coronavirus outbreak — remains uncertain.
CTG has been forced to forgo the remainder of its 2019-20 season, and like theater companies across the nation, it’s still trying to figure out the logistics of reopening. Is social distancing possible inside a theater, what other measures might give patrons the confidence to come back and how will all this affect the bottom line?
In a recent summit of top Southern California theater leaders hosted by CTG, Ritchie expressed deep concern about the future and emphasized no one has real answers — only a sense of hope that the art form will survive this latest plague.