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Underground Railroad Game

Members say: Edgy, Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Relevant, Intense

About the show

Ars Nova presents the NYC debut of a taboo-smashing comedy that ravages American tropes about race, sex, and power politics. 

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Good morning, America! Welcome to Hanover Middle School, where two teachers are getting down and dirty with today’s lesson. The nimble duo goes round after round on the mat of our nation’s history, tackling race, sex, and power in this R-rated, kaleidoscopic, and fearless comedy.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The Washington Post

"This riveting, whip-smart performance piece is as daringly unexpurgated as anything you’ll encounter onstage today. It’s an effort to reset the table for the complicated conversation about race that America eternally attempts to start, and always ends up recoiling from in guilt and insecurity and anger…Kidwell and Sheppard are equally magnetic here and yes, truly brave. Along with their savvy director and designers, they play enthrallingly with dynamite." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"It is indeed a feast of various styles of storytelling, keeping audience members on the edge of their seats as the play snaps between its different aspects like a well-conducted orchestra, all the while challenging you to look into the depth of our nation’s history...It takes courage to create a play like 'Underground Railroad Game.' The 'Inception'-like layers of the plot do not sacrifice clarity, as the message of the play is relevant to all." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Kidwell and Sheppard have devised an effective vehicle for their talents, one that confidently rides the audience's nerves for 90 minutes, daring us not to be offended and forcing us to think hard about what we're feeling...They play together with unusual finesse, even as they follow the play's argument down some distinctly dark corridors. Taibi Magar's direction keeps us on pins and needles, ricocheting from easy laughter to high tension and back again." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"They are really sifting through the speech we use, black and white, to talk about ourselves and each other. And they are using all the languages we humans have at our disposal: physical, intellectual, rational, emotional...The writing is consistently, searingly funny, especially when it reveals exactly what the characters most want to hide...A+ for ideas, effort and for making us laugh, cathartically, all the better to reflect and learn." Full Review

The New York Times

"In-all-ways sensational...The play conjures searing theatrical visuals to match its wayward words, the sort of images that used to send people to Freudian analysts when they cropped up in nightmares...It could be argued, I suppose, that the play repeats the same points a tad too often. Yet it has such vivid diversity of presentation that it never seems monotonous...'Underground Railroad Game' manages to be, in the year 2016, shocking in ways that 'Dutchman' must have been 50-some years ago." Full Review


“‘Underground Railroad Game’ is Neo-Burlesque at its most outrageous – a balancing act of satire, irony and comedic bedlam concerning race and romance. Underground Railroad Game is a ‘R-rated, kaleidoscopic, fearless comedy,’ where the playwrights, Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard, cross their own Mason-Dixon line with their provocative approach to what a contemporary Underground Railroad ‘game’ might offer.” Full Review

Off Off Online

"'Underground Railroad Game,' a bold and imaginative theatrical piece, is a bawdy satire in which the audience is made to look head-on at the serious issues of race, sexuality, and how we deal with them in the aftermath of slavery...Kidwell as Caroline gives a raw, bold, yet vulnerable interpretation...Sheppard’s comical yet painfully exposed performance as Stuart breaks through serious barriers that society doesn’t often discuss." Full Review

Front Row Center

"They have used the theater to do exactly what it is best suited to do: Take a thorny topic and explore, question, reflect, and reveal the human condition with intelligence, compassion, humor, bravery, no bias and no easy answers...This R-rated play tackles the very topical subjects of race, power and sex...There is an incredible level of trust between the two performers and creators of this piece...There are no neat answers, just raw, honest questions." Full Review

Time Out New York

"There's a hint of race war in the color war–style kids’ game for which Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard’s outrageously funny and discomfiting show is named...The taboo-flouting script is matched by bold, smart performances from both actors...At the performance I attended, the laughter and shock of the almost exclusively white audience had a tinge of self-flagellation, which felt gratifying—if not, as the play makes clear, necessarily liberating." Full Review

What's On Off Broadway

"It took a while for the cynical part of me to warm to this show. It is a little too earnest in places and tries too hard to be edgy. But halfway through the fast-paced show I was hooked...Kidwell and Sheppard are excellent in the roles, but even more than that, they are fearless. They walk right up to the edge of what people are comfortable with and then jump across, believing we have the guts to follow...By the end, I wasn’t positive what I saw, but I knew I would remember it for a long time." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

"I don’t especially favor some of the methods Kidwell and Sheppard employ...but it can’t be denied that they’ve found a provocatively original way to bring their subject to the table...‘Underground Railroad Game’ is filled with artistic and intellectual conundrums; you may even leave the theatre asking, “Now what was that all about?” But, while watching, its preoccupations, even if not easy to articulate, are likely to seep into your consciousness and stay with you after you get home." Full Review


"The actors play sexual attraction with a light touch, but the script is uncompromising in its depiction of fantasies and prejudices...Magar keeps the actors moving at high velocity through the script's vibrant absurdism...The writer/performers are hardpressed to achieve a dramatically satisfying conclusion. But with issues as thorny and urgent as those addressed, it's hardly reasonable to ask for a denouement that's satisfying in any traditional sense of the word." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"Kidwell and Sheppard make their overall engagé point. They make it with such vigor and conviction that it occurred to me some audience members might be thinking how brilliant the folderol was...I believe there's a thin line between commenting on vulgarity and being straightforwardly vulgar. In the instance of 'Underground Railroad Game,' I'm convinced the line has been crossed from comment-on to example-of." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"It is crass and tasteless for the purpose of shock. I wasn’t shocked just sickened that this is now theatre...It's hard to talk about the direction by Taibi Magar and the acting by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard because I honestly do not understand what I was truly supposed to be seeing...I honestly cannot believe how anyone gave this a rave review, but they did. Maybe I still believe that you can catch more flies with honey and the Emperor has NO clothes!" Full Review

Philadelphia Inquirer

for a previous production "A brilliant theatrical commentary on contemporary race relations…’Underground Railroad Game’ is both wildly entertaining and profoundly troubling…Under Taibi Magar’s direction, the two brave actors play with and mock their own and each other’s physical presences...All the while they craft characters within characters. We watch layers piled on and then layers peeled away." Full Review

Broad Street Review

for a previous production "'Underground Railroad Game' addresses all the awkward peculiarities of interracial interaction without sounding cheap or even full of itself. Despite the play’s reputation for being raunchy and offensive, I found myself feeling exposed more than uncomfortable, and in an inexplicably good way; with so many relatable, valid observations being manifested before my eyes, I felt as if the play was written specifically for me...But the truth is that it was written for everyone." Full Review

DC Metro Theater Arts

for a previous production "There’s something in it to offend almost everyone. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world…’Underground Railroad Game’ is an outrageous and hilarious show, a play that explores race relations…Sarah Sanford’s dynamic direction moves the audience fluidly from reality to fantasy and from century to century…’Underground Railroad Game’ is often uncomfortable to watch, but that’s the point. There’s no resolution to these contradictory viewpoints, no easy answers." Full Review


for a previous production "Kidwell and Sheppard’s skillfully devised work slowly bends and breaks the separation between historical Americana and contemporary experience…The dialogue in this work, particularly in a scene where Stuart and Caroline walk home from a movie, was honest and well thought out…The audience was at times in fits of laughter or prayer-like silence…The deftness of this work in its ability to use humor and emotion honestly produced a complex performance from two gifted co-creators." Full Review

Philadelphia Weekly

for a previous production "The delightfully awkward metafiction ‘Underground Railroad Game’ is a twisted melange of some of our fiercest taboos...This two-person play (masterfully helmed by Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard) revels gleefully in seditious satire…As scenes and timelines shift, so does the comedic intensity and so do the stakes …’Underground Railroad Game’ doesn’t so much provide answers, but instead maniacally guides us towards the questions we never thought we should be asking." Full Review

Philadelphia Inquirer

for a previous production "A funny, poignant take on racial politics...Director Sarah Sanford teases out this devised production's humor with exaggerated movements and dialect…Kidwell and Sheppard show us the social construct of American racial difference. It's learned behavior...But it's historical legacy, and an indelible aspect of our collective psyche, and now we're stuck with it. At least Kidwell and Sheppard help us laugh at the mess we've made, even as we try to clean it up." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Absorbing, Clever, Edgy, Intense, Great writing

See it if You like edgy dialogue, political theatre, smart staging, absorbing story telling and insightful thought provoking reflections on race

Don't see it if You are easily offended, want simple theatre or don't want to deal with the issues of race.

Intense, Refreshing, Relevant, Riveting, Excruciating

See it if You love daring, fresh, intense, risk-taking theatre. You're okay with seeing something interesting that you may not like.

Don't see it if Racist language, full nudity, and/or sexual degradation is a no-go.

Also To quote one of the situationally best lines in the play..."Is this wh... Read more Read less

Funny, Intelligent, Resonant, Great writing, Important

See it if you want to think about the politics of race and sex in an in-your-face kind of way.

Don't see it if you are uncomfortable with nudity and frank discussions of sex and racism.

Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound

See it if you're the kind of person who keeps banging his head against the wall trying to figure out race relations

Don't see it if you're squeamish about language, nudity, sexual situations, uncomfortable audience situations -- all, I would argu, in service of the piece.

Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if Bold and provocative discussions about race relations. First-rate and dedicated performances. Intimate venue and conversation platform.

Don't see it if There were intense and shocking moments that *appear* gratuitous, but if you let them sink in, you might appreciate the thoughtful execution

Funny, Intelligent, Must see, Relevant, Great writing

See it if You are craving a play with lots of ideas and wit

Don't see it if Nudity ( both male and female ) makes you squirm

Ambitious, Clever, Edgy, Intelligent, Hilarious

See it if you'd like an intense, funny, stinging look at race relations, civil war legacies, & male/female relations in a brilliant, audacious setting

Don't see it if you don't like nudity, strong language, situations taking racial issues to an extreme, male/female violence & minimal audience participation

Funny, Great acting, Intense, Relevant

See it if You're interested in a show that delves into the uncomfortable aspects of interracial relationships

Don't see it if You go to theatre to be comforted

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

See it if you want to be challenged as to your thoughts about race and how we talk about and deal with racial issues.

Don't see it if you are offended by nudity (male and female) or if you're looking for a "traditional" play.

Ambitious, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Riveting

See it if you want to be made to feel uncomfortable and to confront unconscious racism today or if you want.

Don't see it if you want a light and fluffy theatre experience.

Edgy, Intense, Thought-provoking, Profound, Relevant

See it if You want to be wowed by an utterly original play with insights into racism, sexuality and human nature.

Don't see it if You are unprepared for stunning sex infused scenes that build to a climax in more ways than one.

Disappointing, Thin, Overhyped

See it if you're so eager for taboo, transgressive material that you don't mind how thin the message is, or that it's delivered without any warmth.

Don't see it if you expect humor - there are scattered chuckles, but not serious laughs. Or if you value your time - it's padded just to get to 75 minutes.

Ambitious, Clever, Edgy, Great acting, Confusing

See it if You enjoy theater that shocks and provokes, pushes boundaries, attempts to prove strong points through in-your-faceness.

Don't see it if You don't like plays that try to ride the line between commentary and vulgarity and don't succeed. A forceful attempt, I didn't enjoy it.

Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Daring

See it if Well constructed and persuasively acted, this play pushes boundaries and buttons. Themes include white guilt, racial misunderstandings, sex

Don't see it if you want clarity. It's impossible to put this play in a bucket or fully grasp its intent. Racial themes, nudity, harsh language

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Unexpected, Brechtian, Discombobulating

See it if you're interested in power dynamics within relationships, you like plays that interrogate identity, you want to be shaken and stirred.

Don't see it if you need narrative, emotional connection, story; you hate deconstruction; you don't like stories about race, politics, or identity.

Ambitious, Dizzying, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Brave

See it if you're interested in contemporary politics, race, American history, political theatre, brave acting work, intelligently drawn conflict.

Don't see it if you're uncomfortable with onstage nudity or sexual situations, want a comfortable seat, want to see (some seats are VERY obstructed).

Quirky, Raunchy, Disappointing, Overrated, Good acting

See it if You like theater that seems to exist primarily for shock value (although I did not find it all that shocking).

Don't see it if You like to plays that explore hot topic issues merely by raising issues rather than thoughtfully exploring them.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Clever, Intelligent, Intense

See it if Interesting,wonderful presentation of material you might not have seen or thought about this way. Interesting audience

Don't see it if Very in your face. Nudity,I thought a bit much.

Absorbing, Edgy, Overrated

See it if First half interested me as the premise was terrific and the acting good

Don't see it if Second half was banal and full frontal nudity was gratuitous.

Funny, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Raunchy

See it if you like edgy theater. This show explores race, sexuality, and the intersection of the two.

Don't see it if you prefer to avoid nudity, masturbation, oral sex, repeated use of abhorrent racial slurs, and/or sock puppets.

Clever, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great staging

See it if you like an "in-your-face" show about race and gender relations. Its edgy and quirky and has full frontal nudity and even humor.

Don't see it if You don't like unusual presentations, are offended by sexual enactments or are thinking of bringing kids.

Edgy, Bracing, Perplexing

See it if You are up for a very interesting essay into history, race relations and gender power relations in a striking, original style.

Don't see it if You prefer your entertainment in non-threatening, neat tidy packages, with a clear story and satisfying conclusion. Also, not for the kids.

Ambitious, Clever, Edgy, Provocative, Smart

See it if you're a fan of bold, beautifully-designed devised work; if you'd want to see a collaboration between Kara Walker &, say, Miranda July..

Don't see it if you need a clear story; if you don't have stomach for explicitly sexual explorations of racism (or racially charged depictions of sexuality)

Thought-provoking, Raunchy, Relevant

See it if You enjoy plays about real social issues. Have no problem with full nudity or on stage sex. You like subtext rather than overt messages.

Don't see it if You are under twenty one, offending by sex or nudity. Are triggered by racial discussions or use of racial slang.

Original, Edgy, Intelligent, Profound, Shocking

See it if You want to experience something really original and in your face.

Don't see it if You are easily offended by strong words and strong sexual images.

Cast & Creatives (9)