Letter to the Editor: The Slave at Mixed Magicwith

In regard to your recent review of The Slave, I had to read it more than a few times to be sure I understood this critic’s detailed negativity toward the production and her position on why this play was too offensive to be produced (*and with full disclosure, said critic is a longtime colleague and local theater practitioner).

To quote: “This script uses racist language toward Native-Americans and the Japanese. It is degrading to women, and I lost count of the number of times a homophobic slur was used.” She goes on to question, “Why Mixed Magic would want to illustrate messages of thoughtless hate while exploring such a relevant topic…”

Perhaps an interesting query, but one that I believe verges too close to censorship and suggests a complete dismissal of the full cadre of the work of Amiri Baraka (nee Leroi Jones.)

The review states, “It is unfair to associate the injustice of continued racism in America with the levels of hate portrayed in this script.”

Is it? Is it really? This play emphasizes racial and social oppression and offers up a violent revolution as a fictional solution to the systemic and continued marginalization of ethnic groups in America.Baraka’s body of work was defined by engaging — and yes, often enraging — audiences with a passionate social debate. Much of his dialogue and poetry was drawn directly from his own tendencies toward violence, homophobia and yes, misogyny.

Simply put, to question the validity of producing this theater piece because it offends would be tantamount to boycotting the (often-produced) words of Sarah Kane, Neil LaBute, David Mamet, even Shakespeare.

I submit that instead of being offended I would ask critics and audiences to definitely attend this piece of art with open ears and mind. After engaging with the material, if you are offended or enraged or even bored, to then look within yourself and let the experience teach you about yourself.
Social anthropology professor David Wax puts it best in his insightful article entitled “How to be Offended”: “It is through taking offense that we discover the limits of our own knowledge, understanding, or compassion, and therefore it is at the point of offense that we have the greatest potential to grow as people.”

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