Re/playing slavery: The play within the play in Suzan-Lori Parks’s White Noise and Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play

Ilka Saal, Jade Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

This article considers the use of the play within the play in recent African American dramas. Following Caroline Levine’s discussion of forms, it asks about the dramaturgical and political affordances of this device when used together with the reenactment of the Master-Slave script. Comparing Suzan-Lori Parks’s White Noise (2019) and Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play (2018), the article discusses what the metatheatrical re/play of slavery in the two plays affords, in terms of possibilities and limits, for probing the continuing psychic and affective hold of slavery on contemporary subjects. While the play within the play’s traditional Western self-reflective function can afford insight for some of the characters into their role in the social field, this insight does not necessarily translate into progressive action. Notably, both plays’ endings visually tie the vocal emancipation of the Black protagonists from the scripts of slavery to the straight, white, male, liberal antagonist crumbling under the awareness of the weight of the historical role he agreed to reenact. Hence, the plays seem to suggest that for white liberals an affective encounter with their structural implication in the enduring legacies of slavery might be a prerequisite for imagining systemic change. In doing so, these plays challenge both the characters who engage with the play within the play onstage as well as their off-stage audience to consider their positionality and performance in an entrenched racial scenario.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalIdeAs.
Issue number21
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

Keywords

  • African American drama
  • Jeremy O. Harris
  • play within the play
  • scenario
  • Suzan-Lori Parks

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