The playwright and actor Jeremy O. Harris, a third-year student at Yale’s School of Drama, recognizes and approaches both his own psyche as well as the collective psyche of America (via the theatre space and its mostly white audience) as critical sites of investigation where difficult and uncomfortable truths can be explored and laid bare. Last year, Harris made his professional debut at the New York Theatre Workshop with Slave Play (directed by Robert O’Hara), an unflinching exploration of how the afterlife of racial slavery in the United States has stained the notion of intimacy for interracial couples living in 21st-century America. As Harris explains, “There is a scar in [America] that we pretend like it doesn’t exist and we think we can ignore this major wound.” Slave Play is an uncomfortable and disturbing intervention into America’s troubling past; it seeks to acknowledge and treat the violence and collective trauma that the wound of slavery has left in its wake, for black and white people alike.
With works like Slave Play and its 2019 follow-up, Daddy, Harris looks to ignite new conversations about race and sexuality in a way that considers the lingering presence of history. With a cogent analysis of the power dynamics at play between interracial couples, Harris interrogates what scholar Saidiya Hartman aptly calls a “history that hurts,” and enlists the theatre as a means of helping to “associate us back with ourselves and have a different conversation” about race, sexuality and slavery in America.