By Wanda Sabir
Ishmael Reed’s current play, directed by Carla Blank, “The Slave Who Loved Caviar,” at the Theater for the New Town through January 9, explores black culture and the exploitation of whites in relationship. between the Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.
Basquiat rose to fame in the Neo-Expressionist art movement in the 1980s, and Warhol, one of his mentors, rose to prominence for Pop Art and drug use in the 1960s. They died unless One year apart, Warhol was 59 in 1987 and Basquiat died of an overdose at 27 in 1988.
There are so many analogous parallels, both fictional or mythical and real, that it’s astonishing that the play only has one intermission.
In his piece, Reed postulates that the older white artist presented himself as a caring father figure. Under the influence of drugs, a willing Basquiat allows Warhol to install him in a basement where Basquiat produces art like an assembly worker.
Reed’s premise here is that Warhol had committed a crime.
The cold case is reopened by two forensic pathologists, Grace and Raksha (Monisha Shiva and sidekick Kenya Wilson) who want to bring the perpetrators to justice. As the contemporary team investigate, the weather changes as what happened to Basquiat has continued with other captives.
Slave owners used cocaine – which Basquiat overused – to increase the productivity of captives, Reed says. Just as slavery was once legal, the Warhol machine also had legal protection, money, and power.
Reed’s writing is crisp and crisp, as are the actors who deliver and deliver and deliver even more. Carla Blank’s directing is also relevant, as the diction and storylines clearly unfold in nuanced layers.
Love the scene from act 2 where the ghost of Richard Pryor – appearing as a shadow puppet danced by actor Kenya Wilson – tries to stop Basquiat from going up into the chemical flames like the deceased did actor.
The Ghost of Pryor is about the art of selling in Hollywood, a different kind of battleground for black art and artists. We feel Pryor’s regret that we didn’t stay with people who loved him. It is difficult to tell a friend from an enemy when engulfed by f (l) soul (s).
Reed’s characters also convey the dominant police attitudes that allow the rich and famous to escape everything from theft to murder, a very real issue on and off the page.
Roz Fox’s Detective Mary van Helsing is a cool sleuth who sets out in search of the missing aperitif, “Jennifer Blue” (actor Kenya Wilson) despite legal disinterest. She is our heroine. Don’t worry, this is a spoiler, but there is so much going on here, you will probably forget what I told you.
In “Slavic” we see too often how historians are propagandists who lie to keep the empire solvent.
Do you remember Orwell’s ministry of truth in “1984”? I also remember Jimi Hendrix (1970) and his disappearance – yes to a drug overdose. . . Fuquan Johnson (2021), Shock G (2021), Juice WRLD (2020), Billie Holiday (1959), Whitney Houston (2012), Artist formerly known as Prince (2006), Michael Jackson (2009).
Since this is Ishmael Reed, we can actually have a happy ending.
The last hooks of the bell wrote in “Outlaw Culture: ‘Altars of Sacrifice:’ Remember Basquiat ‘”, that the young, but masterful artist “has traveled to the heart of whiteness.
White territory he named as a wild and brutal place. The journey is undertaken with no certainty of return. There is also no way of knowing what you will find or who you will be at the end of the journey. . . . Basquiat understood that he was risking his life, that this trip was a question of sacrifice [. . .]”(36). this and its refusal to allow the mainstream culture to tell our story, the 99%, the percentage that matters.
How difficult it must have been for the artist to have a say as he dangled from a vendor’s rope. This is where the black genius resides. This is where the drama lies. Ishmael Reed’s ability to cultivate success for the past sixty years or so stemmed from his artistic research of eReed is impeccable – I am losing track of certain names, like the artist who boycots along with other black artists a museum that intends to exploit them.
Reed is certainly prescient, as is the artistic director of the Theater for The New City, Crystal Field. As Confederate monuments are toppled across the country and repairs are a very real possibility, “The Slave Who Loved Caviar” certainly sets a precedent. “Slave” is a challenge and a wake-up call for those who haven’t paid attention to the right thing. “Slave” said, change the channel. What did the last poets of the Revolution say?
The play airs through January 9, 2022 at the Theater for the New City. Streaming tickets are just $ 10 + a small fee. For in-person ($ 15.00) and virtual tickets, visit https://ci.ovationtix.com/35441/production/1091241
You can read more about Reed on my radio interview or podcast here.
We had a conversation with many of the cast on January 5, 2022 on the Wanda’s Picks Radio Show podcast. Login (Subscribe): http://tobtr.com/12046944